The Arizona Supreme Court intervened in the child-molestation trial of onetime Minuteman leader Chris Simcox on Thursday afternoon, calling a halt to the proceedings until it can consider whether Simcox – who is insisting on his right to represent himself at trial – should be permitted to cross-examine the young girls he is accused of molesting.
KPHO-TV in Phoenix reported that Justice John Pelander of the state’s high court granted a stay in the trial at the request of Phoenix attorney Jack Wilenchik, who is representing the parents of one of the girls pro bono. Wilenchik had filed an emergency motion on behalf of the victim with the Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday night, after the state appeals court declined to stop the trial while it considered whether or not it was appropriate to allow Simcox to cross-examine the girls.
Maricopa County prosecutors had asked Superior Court Judge Jose Padilla, who is overseeing the trial, to require Simcox to cross-examine the girls through court-appointed associate counsel, but Padilla had refused. And when the appeals court declined to prevent the trial from proceeding while it waited to consider the prosecutors’ arguments, Wilenchik stepped up with what he admits was “a Hail Mary pass,” in an interview with Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times.
"If the court allows the child victim to be subject to cross-examination by her abuser," Wilenchik argued in his motion, "then the victim's constitutional right [under the Arizona Constitution] to be free from harassment and intimidation will be permanently violated."
Justice Pelander agreed, ruling that "the stay shall take effect either immediately or upon completion of the ongoing jury selection process in superior court." Jury selection in Padilla’s courtroom ended Thursday with only five jurors having been examined, four of those rejected. The trial is now expected to resume sometime after the end of this month.
"Simcox caused this all himself," Wilenchik told Lemons. "It was him who decided after two years of pending charges to make the decision to represent himself a month and a-half before trial. I think the prosecution moved pretty quickly to ask for this accommodation that [Simcox] not cross-examine his own molestation victims."
Victims’ rights advocates had earlier voiced their outrage to KPHO reporters about the possibility that Simcox might cross-examine his alleged victims. Daphne Young of Childhelp, an Arizona nonprofit that advocates for abused and neglected children, told the reporters that permitting such a situation would be a gross mistake.
"When a potential predator has the opportunity to cross-examine a child victim of sexual abuse, there's a great risk for intimidation, manipulation and re-victimizing of that young victim," Young said. "When you consider all the verbal and non-verbal cues that a predator uses to groom a young victim, there's a lot that can happen under the nose of the judges and even experts in the field because of the intimate relationship that abusers use to create silence.”
In this case, the girls were ages 6 and 5 when the alleged incidents occurred, in 2013. They are 8 and 7 now.
Simcox was originally charged with also molesting a third little girl, whom Simcox allegedly bribed with candy to expose her genitals, but those charges were dropped after the grand jury chose not to indict him in that case. However, that girl is expected to be a prosecution witness as well.
According to the papers filed by prosecutors, Simcox “is alleged to have digitally penetrated his biological daughter’s [vagina] on two occasions, penetrated her vagina with an object on [one] occasion and to have fondled the genitals of his daughter’s friend on two occasions.”
Simcox had initially been offered a plea bargain that would have required him to serve 10 years in prison, but he refused and insisted on taking the case to trial. Eventually, after months of disputes with his court-appointed attorneys, Simcox decided to assert his constitutional right to defend himself in court. Padilla granted him that.
Simcox rose to national notoriety in the early part of the previous decade by leading vigilante border watches that attracted a steady stream of media attention, culminating in the 2005 Minuteman Project event at the border that he and cofounder Jim Gilchrist promoted as a national anti-immigration event.
All along, however, there were allegations of sexual misbehavior. A 2005 report by the SPLC noted that Simcox had been previously accused by an older daughter of attempting to molest her, and his third ex-wife – mother of his current accuser – obtained a restraining order during their 2010 divorce.