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Friday, June 21, 2024
Cook's first of seven trials is set to begin Feb. 26 in Jefferson County.

Cook's first of seven trials is set to begin Feb. 26 in Jefferson County.

Five themes to watch heading into Alec Cook’s first trial

Former UW-Madison student Alec Cook is set to begin his first of seven trials on Feb. 26 in Jefferson County. Cook faces a total of 21 charges, six of which will be covered in the first trial. Before it begins, here are five themes to watch heading into the trial:

1. Lack of time behind bars for UW-Madison students heading into this trial

A Daily Cardinal report found that between 2011-’17, five UW students found guilty of sexual assault served a combined less than one year in jail. The maximum sentence for the charges could have totaled more than six decades.

Following that investigation, Alec Shiva, who was accused of sexually assaulting another student in a dorm room, was sentenced last September to a year and half in prison.

Shiva was charged with three felonies, while Alec Cook is currently charged with 16.

2. How high profile the case became

Due to the number of women who have come forward against Cook and the number of charges he faces, the case has gained significant national media attention. Outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN all have spent time covering the case.

The amount of coverage was the basis of the defense’s argument as to why the case should be moved from Dane County. The judge granted that motion, hence why the trial will be held in Jefferson County.

3. Defense has won significant motions

Leading up to this trial, Cook’s lawyers have filed and been granted three important motions. The first was the severance of charges, which separated the 21 charges into seven different trials. The defense argued that without severance, the jury would be unable to separate to assess each charge individually, hence making the trial unfair for Cook.

The second motion was to suppress a notebook found at Cook’s apartment the day after his arrest. Two Dane County circuit judges sided with the defense that because the photos taken at the initial search were not within the scope of the “Consent to Search” agreed to by Cook, they were invalid when used to obtain a second search warrant to receive the physical copies of the notebook.

The third motion, as previously mentioned, was to move the trial out of Dane County due to the high media coverage.

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4. The foundation of the defense’s argument

As referenced in an article by Vice, Chris Van Wagner, one of Cook’s two lawyers, has honed in on the argument that the court of public opinion takes control before any actual judicial decision is handed down.

While that argument may be more applicable in the motions related to the change of venue or severance of charges, it will be interesting to see how the defense counters evidence used by the state.

5. Campus impact

Cook’s case, because of its alleged severity and extensive coverage, has made sexual assault a prevalent issue among students, administrators and city officials. Since his initial arrest, there have been protests dedicated to sexual assault on campus and there has been widespread campus news coverage of the issue. Since the incident, the university has added a centralized sexual assault reporting system for all students and employees.

Correction 2/19/18, 12:06 PM: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Cook was charged with 21 felonies. He's charged with 16. 

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