A group of Madison-area elected officials Tuesday ripped the three-year sentence a Dane County judge issued to former UW-Madison student Alec Cook, convicted of three sexual assaults, as “a slap on the wrist.”
The officials, state Reps. Lisa Subeck, Terese Berceau, Dianne Hesselbein and Sondy Pope, along with Dane County Board supervisors Carousel Bayrd and Analiese Eicher, sent a letter to Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke and asked for a meeting.
The letter was written to “collectively express our dismay and outrage about the lenient sentence you gave to Alec Cook.”
On Thursday, Ehlke sentenced Cook to three years in prison followed by eight years of a combination of extended supervision and probation after Cook pleaded guilty in February to three counts of third-degree sexual assault, and one count each of strangulation and stalking.
Before the plea agreement, Cook, 22, of Edina, Minnesota, had been charged with 23 criminal counts involving 11 women, including varying degrees of sexual assault involving six of the women. He was expelled from UW.
The letter incorrectly states that Cook could have received up to 40 years in prison. Instead, Cook faced up to 19½ years in prison followed by 20 years of extended supervision. Prosecutors sought the maximum 19½-year sentence, while Cook’s lawyers recommended probation.
“Your lenient sentence amounts to a slap on the wrist for a serial rapist whose violent and sadistic sex crimes will haunt his victims for years to come,” the letter states.
“The message your sentence sends to Mr. Cook’s victims, to the UW campus community, and to our community at large is clear: In just three or fewer years, this predator will be back on the streets because men like Alec Cook, men with privilege, are above the law.”
The officials also wrote that they are concerned that the sentence would discourage other victims of sexual assault from reporting those crimes.
Last week, state Attorney General Brad Schimel also said that the state Department of Justice is “disappointed” with Cook’s sentence.
DOJ lawyer Christopher Liegel was on the Cook prosecution team.
In a letter responding to the lawmakers, Chief Judge William Hanrahan wrote that even though he has been sentenced, Cook’s case remains active while he serves his sentence and because of that it would be an ethical violation under Wisconsin Supreme Court rules for Ehlke to discuss the case with them.
Hanrahan encouraged the group to dig into case records and transcripts, including a plea agreement in which prosecutors agreed to dismiss 18 of the 23 counts against Cook, to “gain a first-hand understanding of what actually occurred in the courtroom.” After that, if they still believe Ehlke made a legal error in his sentence, “there is nothing that prohibits you from contacting the attorney general to discuss the availability of appellate review,” Hanrahan wrote.
He also stressed the importance of the judiciary in ensuring that the rights of victims and the accused are protected, which makes it “incumbent upon judges to remain impartial and independent.”
Cook’s lawyers, Chris Van Wagner and Jessa Nicholson Goetz, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
In his sentencing remarks, Ehlke expressed support for the victims but said it’s very uncommon for a person never convicted of a crime before, like Cook, to be sentenced to prison for third-degree sexual assault, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
In letters to Ehlke, some of the women described how their experiences with Cook had traumatized them, degraded their self-esteem and affected their ability to concentrate on school work.