Friday, October 30, 2009

Former Anchorage Cop Sammy Cohen Found Guilty Of Sexual Abuse, Child Exploitation, And Possession Of Child Porn

On October 29th, 2009, Sammy Cohen, who was on the Anchorage Police Department for 11 years before he was arrested in 2005 and charged with 10 counts of second-degree abuse of a minor, five counts of exploiting a minor and six counts of possessing child pornography, was convicted of 16 different charges of sex abuse and child exploitation. He was found not guilty of one count of sexual abuse and one count of possessing child porn, and the jury hung on three counts of second-degree sexual assault of a minor. The jury had been deliberating since October 22nd. Cohen's Alaska Court System record is available HERE. Media stories from the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU Channel 2.

A federal agency first tipped off police in 2005 that the 54-year-old Cohen had explicit images of children on his computer. Shortly thereafter, allegations of abuse emerged publicly, and he was arrested. He was accused of molesting his daughter from 1999 until 2001, when she and her mother left Alaska after the Cohens' divorce. Cohen's first trial in 2008 ended in a mistrial before testimony began. Cohen's defense attorney requested the mistrial, claiming he needed more time to prepare. State prosecutors were initially unable to locate the alleged victim but then found her two days before trial was scheduled to begin. The mistrial was granted without prejudice, meaning the prosecution could subsequently re-open the case without violating double jeopardy.

On September 24th, 2009, Cohen's second trial began. Cohen's daughter, now 23 years old, flew back to Alaska from Iraq, where she is on active duty (to protect her identity better, her branch of service is not being publicized) in order to testify. Prosecutor John Skidmore introduced the state's case, saying that Cohen didn't pay much attention to his daughter until she reached puberty. At that point, the gawking and groping began.

Cohen would comment on how nicely his daughter's breasts were developing. He'd offer to help her dry off after a shower. He'd have wrestling matches with her and her sister. He insisted she and her sister take their shirts off when they wrestled, under the pretext that he didn't want them to get "too hot". He even bought her lingerie.

In contrast, Cohen's attorney John Cashion claimed that Cohen's daughter had behavioral issues and school issues requiring extensive attention and counseling. He was trying to portray Cohen's daughter as manipulative and attempting to escape responsibility for what she's done. In other words, blaming the victim.

On October 8th, Cohen took the stand in his own defense. Cohen spent several hours explaining how, years ago, the gifts he gave, the jokes he told and the efforts he made to help the teenage girls in his life were either mischaracterized or misunderstood, and how the worst things they've said about him during his trial aren't true. Cohen denied ever groping his daughter or taking nude photos of her, but could not suggest who else might have taken the photos.

On October 22nd, both sides gave closing arguments, agreeing that it was all about credibility. The prosecution reminded the court that it wasn't just Cohen's daughter who came forth with these allegations; other women from Cohen's past who were underage or close to it at the time who said he also bought them gifts, gave them back rubs, did huge favors for them -- conduct characterized as "grooming" for the kind of exploitation Cohen would later inflict on his daughter. The prosecution also asked why Cohen's daughter would suddenly lie about these things after all this time.

In contrast, the defense talked of the dynamics and drama going on in the Cohen family in 2000, when she made the first of her allegations against her father -- that he took pictures of her topless. At the time, she believed her father was cheating on her mother. Later, when the whole story came out in 2005, her perception was that her parents hated each other and she had to choose sides. The defense then went through a list of 10 points that to him either made no sense or were outright lies, including:

-- That her father was physically abusive. When pressed, she couldn't give one example, he said.
-- That what he did to her had messed her up so bad, she couldn't date. In fact, she had quite a few boyfriends, Cashion said. And she had a child at 17.
-- That she attempted suicide twice, once by drinking bleach. "It's not believable that you could drink bleach and that your mother doesn't know ... Her mom has no recall of any of these things."

On October 29th, the jurors decided that the prosecution was generally more credible. While only 6 of the 10 sex abuse charges passed muster, primarily due to the length of time since the occurrences, there was very little disagreement about the topless and nude computer photos found in Cohen's possession. As juror Sandy Knipmeyer said, "The computer ... spoke for itself, and that's where a lot of those guilties came in... The computer stuff became sort of a solid one for us because of computer evidence. Proof helps."

Cohen will remain out on bail pending his sentencing on February 5th, 2010.

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