Judge must decide whether Edina man convicted of sexual assault in Wisconsin should be civilly committed
A 27-year-old Edina man convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault while at the University of Wisconsin five years ago has returned to court – this time in Hennepin County for a proceeding to determine whether he should be incarcerated as a sexually dangerous person.
This is a unique case considering crimes committed years ago in another state, but also because Alec Ross Cook is a free man after serving a three-year prison sentence in Wisconsin. Minnesota prosecutors want him jailed longer, while Cook’s attorney William Lubov says they are ‘scared to death’ he could be locked up again for a term indeterminate.
Cook, a level three sex offender, voluntarily enrolled in a sex offender program in Minneapolis after his release from prison in 2021. But the facility, Alpha Emergence Behavioral Health, no longer offers residential programs, leaving the twin towns with no alternative. Cook will continue treatment elsewhere in June, Lubov says, in hopes he won’t be sentenced instead in court for Minnesota’s sex offender program.
The MSOP is often faced with lawsuits, transfer arrears and funding. It costs more than $156,000 a year to house a sex offender in the state’s two high-security closed facilities. There are approximately 740 men treated at MSOP after being designated by the courts as “sexually dangerous” or as having “sexual psychopathic personalities”.
Prosecutors want Cook named at once because they believe he is dangerous and highly likely to re-offend, given charges by 11 women who said they strangled, stalked or assaulted them. Lubov counters that Cook has remained offence-free, single and sober since his arrest in 2016.
A group of Wisconsin lawmakers and elected officials sent a letter in 2018 to the judge expressing “dismay and outrage” at Cook’s sentence which they called “a slap on the wrist for a serial rapist whose violent and sadistic sex crimes will haunt its victims for years to come.”
21 charges, 11 women
Cook faced 21 felony charges involving 11 women. Some were classmates, while many were strangers he stalked on the UW-Madison campus. One woman said in her impact statement that “My college years will never be the best years of my life.” Another said she didn’t believe Cook could be rehabilitated: “[H]He’s a sociopath. He has no empathy.”
The court received three victim impact statements. Most didn’t want to get involved anymore. The victims declined or did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Cook pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three women, choking and stalking two others. He could have gotten 40 years. Prosecutors wanted 19. Judge Stephen Ehlke gave Cook three years.
“In just three years or less, this predator will be back on the streets because men like Alec Cook, men of privilege, are above the law,” the lawmakers’ letter to Ehlke said.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) found in March 2021 that Cook did not meet the criteria for civilian recognizance. Hennepin County filed its petition in June 2022 after a Minnesota DOC board unanimously decided it should file a lawsuit.
Cook has offered to return to Wisconsin if Hennepin County denies the motion, but prosecutors resisted, prompting a three-week bench trial this spring under District Judge Michael Browne.
Cook’s fate rests with Browne, not the jurors. He officially took the matter under advisement on May 17 and will deliver his decision by the end of August. Browne stopped by telling Cook that he had to mentally prepare for all possible outcomes and guesswork.
Browne could reject the petition, send Cook to the MSOP, or order a less restrictive option that would involve treatment with supervised release until 2026.
“There are a lot of different ways it could happen,” Browne said.
Cook grew up in Edina, where her father is a property developer and her mother is a financial advisor. He said his childhood was normal and denied any abuse or neglect. His parents said “they don’t know where they went wrong,” according to court records.
He excelled in school, despite struggling with drugs and alcohol, graduating in 2014 with a 3.65 GPA which he maintained in college before his expulsion. He earned his undergraduate degree while incarcerated.
Cook has landed three jobs since prison, noting that he got them thanks to his father. He wants to be an entrepreneur and podcaster and sell real estate.
He never had a long-term relationship, but he religiously studied books on flirting and seduction. For years, he journaled his sexual “targets” and a “to-do list.”
Wisconsin prosecutors presented evidence that he kept a list of victims, according to the Daily Beast.
In a notebook, he wrote: “Being with the women I want has become a MUST. Otherwise, I will end up killing myself.
Hennepin County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Beltaos opened the lawsuit by saying that Cook went to UW-Madison with one goal: “to have sex with as many women as possible.”
She said it involved lying, manipulating, plotting and “causing serious harm to the victims in this case”. His offenses, which began in 2014 until his arrest in 2016, escalated into his most violent sexual assault. This victim went to the police, which allowed the other victims to file a complaint.
“He admits he viewed women as objects and not as humans,” Beltaos said.
Cook said on the witness stand that if the women told him no, “I thought it was something to overcome” and “convince them otherwise.”
He learned about ‘holocaust denial’, which he described as ‘making a woman feel bad about her appearance so that she doesn’t feel as good about herself and turns to you for his approval”.
“I thought that was what I had to do to get women to sleep with me,” he said in his testimony.
In a university course on human sexuality, her lecture notes mention sexual coercion and the impact of rape on victims. Beltaos asked if he had learned that rape was illegal. Cook said “probably”.
Before being sentenced in Wisconsin, he said he found it difficult to understand the charges against him. As recently as January 2022, notes from Alpha indicated that Cook had ongoing difficulty defining his behavior as criminal.
During his sentencing, he apologized and said the victims were telling the truth. But he later told his therapist he was forced to say that. “After being in prison, I felt resentment,” he testified.
Cook was in sex offender treatment in prison before going to Alpha, but was fired because “I wasn’t ready to take full responsibility.”
Prosecutors said Cook repeatedly got into trouble at Alpha. An employee said he licked his lips. In light of his trial, he told a staff member to give him a good report.
He broke Alpha rules to take his shirt off in a park and get the phone numbers of women at a bowling alley and the Walker Art Center. He also attended 20 yoga classes at a studio without permission.
He met a victim in college at the campus gymnasium. Others said he stalked or approached them in grocery stores or just walking the sidewalk. He fiddled with it in public.
Asked on a scale of 1 to 10 what his risk of recurrence is, Cook answered three. He said he’s not sure if his diagnosis of sexual sadism still applies, but he believes it is accurate. He doesn’t think his diagnosis of hypersexuality applies today. He is also a diagnosed narcissist.
Beltaos said he continued to lack remorse — he sometimes pretended to cry on the witness stand — and had regressed in his treatment.
Three psychologists are divided on whether Cook should be civilly bound.
Dr. Andrea Lovett, the first court-appointed examiner, testified that Cook is a manipulative clinical psychopath with a high risk of reoffending. The other court-appointed examiner, Dr. Paul Reitman, said the likelihood of Cook committing further sexual offenses had decreased significantly.
Prosecutors Beltaos and Brittany Lawonn said Reitman — who at one point was observed giving Cook a thumbs up — is biased. The other reviewer, Dr. Thomas Alberg, who was hired by Cook’s family for $50,000, did not support his hiring. Along with Lubov, they also hired another attorney, Brian Southwell.
Lubov doesn’t think Cook gets any special treatment because of his family’s means and privileges. He doesn’t excuse Cook’s misdemeanors, but he said it should be about rehabilitation, not punishment.
Even if the judge rules against the MSOP, he said Cook “will never be freed from this.”
When Cook first stepped out into the world alone in college, prosecutors said in closing argument that the lives of 11 young women were forever changed because of him.
“Freely,” they wrote, “[Cook] will most likely rape again.”
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