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Saturday, December 09, 2023

Alec Cook will face seven separate trials in sexual assault cases involving 11 women

The first trial, covering what a county judge said Friday were the most “serious” allegations, will take place Feb. 26.

Former UW-Madison student Alec Cook will face seven separate trials in sexual assault cases involving nearly a dozen women, a county judge ruled Thursday, with the first trial slated to happen in February 2018.

The cases will be separated by victims and the type of charge filed, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke wrote in a statement. The following trials are set to take place:

  • Trial A: two counts of felony stalking involving two women
  • Trial B: counts of fourth-degree sexual assault and disorderly conduct involving four women
  • Trial C, D, E and F: four separate trials involving second- and third-degree sexual assault victims
  • Trial G: most recently filed counts of disorderly conduct and false imprisonment

The first trial will cover six of the most “serious” alleged offenses filed against Cook, according to Ehlke, including one count of second-degree sexual assault and use of force, three counts of third-degree sexual assault, one count of strangulation and suffocation and one count of false imprisonment. It is scheduled to last three to four days, beginning Feb. 26.

The second trial, involving two felony stalking charges filed by two women, is scheduled for April 9 and expected to last about two days.

Lawyers for Cook, who has been accused of 21 counts including second-degree sexual assault, felony stalking and strangulation, requested in June the case be split into 11 trials. The charges filed most recently had already been ruled to be tried separately from the earlier ones.

Now that the first couple trial dates have been set, defense attorneys Chris Van Wagner and Jessa Nicholson are seeking to move them out of Dane County. Noting the high-profile nature of the cases, heavy press coverage of them in the Madison area and the involvement of the UW-Madison community, they argue that a Dane County trial would be at risk of jury bias.

“The reach of the university, the tentacles of the university campus, go far and let’s face it: Madison is a media center for this part of the state,” Van Wagner told reporters Friday. “There’s just no way it’s likely we’re going to get 40, 50, 70, 100 people from whom we can call 12 to 14 people who can say, ‘I haven’t heard enough about this case to have an opinion.”

“We have a really polarized campus community and it’s concerning,” Nicholson added.

The defense is expected to file a motion for a change of venue in coming months, although it is not yet clear whether Ehlke will grant it or where the trial would alternatively take place.

After Cook was arrested in October 2016, many more women came forward to report the now 21-year-old. He was expelled from UW-Madison in March.

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UPDATE Sept. 8 11:37 a.m.: This article was updated to include additional information.

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