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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Alec Cook’s journal, filled with women’s names ‘systematically’ written in it, could be excluded from trials

When a Madison Police Department detective opened a drawer in the apartment of former UW-Madison student Alec Cook — who faces 21 counts, including second-degree sexual assault, felony stalking and strangulation in cases involving nearly a dozen women — he found a Ziploc bag with a leather journal inside.

In search of evidence like hair or condom wrappers following Cook’s arrest, MPD Detective Grant Humerickhouse began flipping through the notebook. Stuck to the first page, he found a Post-It note with a list of women’s names written on it.

Whether that notebook will be used as evidence when Cook stands trial remains up in the air, after Dane County Judges Stephen Ehlke and John Hyland postponed making any decisions at a motion hearing Thursday.

The nature of the writing in the notebook seemed “systematic,” Humerickhouse testified, adding that he saw it and immediately thought, “this means something.”

But according to the defense, police improperly searched and seized the journal by reading and taking photographs of pages inside. In September, they requested it be excluded from evidence in the seven separate trials Cook will face.

The search warrant, which Cook also signed, said police could look for certain evidence including any women’s clothing, hair, sex toys, lubricant or condoms.

“Is having a list of girls’ names illegal?” attorney Jessa Nicholson asked, noting Humerickhouse took photos of the journal without suspecting illegal activity — a condition of legal seizure without a warrant.

Meanwhile, the prosecution argued Humerickhouse was following the plain view doctrine, a rule that allows officers to seize evidence out in the open during a lawful observation.

Acknowledging grey area surrounding the evidence, Ehlke and Hyland decided after more than two hours of testimony to postpone the decision and issue a written order at a later time.

“It gets to the question of balancing privacy interests of a person versus the reasonableness of the search,” Hyland said.

The defense also requested a change of venue for the trials earlier this year.

Noting the high-profile nature of the cases, heavy press coverage in the Madison area and the involvement of the UW-Madison community, Cook’s lawyers argued that a Dane County trial would be at risk of jury bias.

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“We have a really polarized campus community and it’s concerning,” Nicholson told reporters in September.

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, scheduled for February 2018, will cover six of the most “serious” alleged offenses filed against Cook, according to Ehlke. This includes 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.

It is not yet clear where the trials 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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