The first trial of former UW-Madison student Alec Cook, accused of sexual assault and harassment of female students, scheduled to happen in December, was pushed back Wednesday after Cook’s lawyers filed motions to have the case heard by a jury from outside Dane County, and to suppress some evidence taken by police during a search of Cook’s apartment.
In September, two judges hearing the cases against Cook, 21, of Edina, Minnesota, set dates for the first three trials in Cook’s cases after breaking up the charges against him into seven trials. The first of the trials, concerning false imprisonment and disorderly conduct charges, was to begin on Dec. 11 before Circuit Judge John Hyland.
Cook was charged last year with 12 counts of varying degrees of sexual assault involving six women, along with several other charges that include stalking, disorderly conduct and false imprisonment. Prosecutors say that in all, 11 women have been the victims of sexual assault or harassment by Cook.
On Monday, Cook’s attorneys, Chris Van Wagner and Jessa Nicholson Goetz, filed the motions that they had promised back in September. One cites excessive pretrial publicity about Cook’s case in the news media and on social media that they maintain would make it impossible to select juries from Dane County for Cook’s trials. The motion asks that the juries be selected from elsewhere or that the trials be held in another county.
“The way that this case was treated in this community at the time of the initial charging decision, the coverage was so widespread and so inaccurate that we have concerns that people wouldn’t be able to set aside what they have read and separate the fact from the fiction,” Nicholson Goetz told reporters in September.
Van Wagner and Nicholson Goetz also want to suppress evidence that Madison police took from Cook’s apartment during an Oct. 17, 2016, search that Cook granted to police. The evidence taken, they said, exceeded the limited permission that Cook had given police. Detectives read and photographed Cook’s journal, they wrote, and used the contents of that journal to obtain a broader search warrant for all notebooks and journals in Cook’s apartment.
They are asking that all evidence that police obtained as a result of reading Cook’s notebooks and journals be thrown out.
According to a memo sent Wednesday to the prosecution and defense by Hyland’s office, the trial set to begin Dec. 11 was being rescheduled. The defense motions, along with other trials scheduled the same week in which defendants have filed speedy trial demands, require that Cook’s trial be rescheduled for a later date, the two sides were told.
The false imprisonment trial was re-scheduled to start March 12. The first Cook trial now will likely be a week-long trial starting Feb. 26 before Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke in which Cook faces three counts of second-degree sexual assault, one count of third-degree sexual assault, strangulation and false imprisonment, all involving the same woman.
Another trial, to decide stalking charges against Cook involving two women, is scheduled to begin on April 9.
Dates for the other four trials have not been set.