White supremacist Cobb to be released on probation
BISMARCK – A white supremacist accused of terrorizing people in the small North Dakota town of Leith will serve four years of supervised probation but no additional jail time, a sentence one of his victims called “a failure of justice.”
A judge Tuesday accepted a plea agreement in the case against Craig Cobb that doesn’t require Cobb to spend more time in jail.
Cobb has sat in the Mercer County Jail in Stanton since he and follower Kynan Dutton were arrested Nov. 16 and charged with seven counts of felony terrorizing in connection with four incidents in Leith, including one that happened as they were on an armed patrol of property that Cobb had purchased with hopes of attracting enough like-minded people to take control of the town’s government and create an all-white community. One of the charges was later dismissed.
"I regret my actions. I know I was wrong and I accept responsibility for my actions," Cobb said at Tuesday’s hearing.
Leith Mayor Ryan Schock said he was “not overly surprised” by the sentence, and that his biggest question is where Cobb is going to go upon his release Tuesday. Cobb said in court that he plans to apply to serve out his probation in Missouri, but that state must agree to take him.
“So do we get to stay up for the next month 24/7 because him or his cronies are going to swing by or what? It’d be nice to know,” Schock said, adding, “I can’t imagine another state wanting to take this guy.”
Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz said he didn’t know Cobb’s immediate plans, but said fear of him returning to Leith isn’t legitimate.
“I can tell you we’ll be watching, and Mr. Cobb will be on GPS monitoring. So if all of a sudden he’s within 500 yards of Leith, he’ll be back in jail immediately,” Schwarz said.
He said Cobb’s victims can contact the state Division of Parole and Probation if they want to know his whereabouts.
Cobb entered guilty pleas Feb. 27 to one charge of felony terrorizing and five counts of misdemeanor menacing, but South Central Judicial District Judge David Reich said he wanted more information before accepting the plea agreement and sentencing Cobb. Reich ordered a pre-sentence investigation, including a psychological evaluation.
Reich said Tuesday he had reviewed the report and the objections raised about it – Schwarz and Cobb both said it contained errors – as well as victim impact statements and a number of unsolicited letters and emails. Reich said a majority of the impact statements favored the plea agreement, though he noted it wasn’t unanimous.
Schwarz said the North Dakota attorney general’s office also supported the agreement. He was joined at Tuesday’s hearing by Assistant Attorney General Paul Emerson.
Lee Cook, a Leith City Council member and one of Cobb’s two victims who opposed the plea deal and wanted Cobb brought to trial, called the sentence “a failure of justice.”
“I mean, this guy got off. He made our lives living hell, me and my family, his family,” he said, motioning toward Schock. “And now he’s walking the streets again.”
Schock also criticized Schwarz’s handling of the case, saying, “He let the ball go.”
Schwarz said his critics “need to look at the whole circumstance.” While not referring to Cook by name, he said he sympathized with one victim “a great deal” because he went through something horrible before coming to North Dakota and Cobb reminded him of that.
Cook’s 17-year-old daughter was murdered in 2000, and Cobb speculated online that Cook’s personality may have had “something to do” with instigating her murder, the Bismarck Tribune reported in November, about two weeks before the terrorizing and menacing incidents.
“Nobody should have to go through that,” Schwarz said. “But I have to look at what the law allows, what’s appropriate with the facts in this case and what the likely outcome (of a trial) would have been, and this is the likely outcome,” he said.
Cobb purchased a dozen lots in Leith between September 2011 and October 2012. While he no longer owns property there – he sold his house in February and then deeded his remaining lots back to the city – Schock and Cook noted Tuesday that the lots Cobb deeded to white supremacist Alex Linder, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Tom Metzger and National Socialist Movement Commander Jeff Schoep remain under their ownership.
“Where does that leave us?” Cook said.
Under the plea agreement, Cobb must refrain from alcohol and have no contact with the victims while on probation, including indirect contact via the Internet. He’s prohibited from possessing firearms while on probation and for the rest of his life under federal law, and his long guns used in the alleged terrorizing incidents will be forfeited to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.
Schock said he would have liked to see Cobb serve at least four years in prison, which he said would have made it more difficult for Cobb to contact his “cronies” who have made threats toward Leith.
“The only sense of closure I got out of it is that it’s over today, but on the other hand it’s really not over,” he said. “Because when will it be over, you know? When are we going to know that we’re safe back in our homes back in town? Are we ever going to be safe again?”
“He has made his mark in our lives,” Schock added. “It’s going to take a long time to get over.”
Reich didn’t make reference to a complaint filed by Schock, Cook and New Leipzig resident Gregory Bruce, the city’s website developer, with the North Dakota Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board alleging unprofessional conduct and possible unethical practices by Schwarz. They had asked the board to censure Schwarz, remove him from the Cobb case and appoint a special prosecutor to bring Cobb to trial. Schwarz said he had properly handled the case.
Bruce was originally one of Cobb’s alleged terrorizing victims, though Schwarz successfully moved to have the charge related to Bruce dismissed, saying he lacked credibility.
Dutton, 29, pleaded guilty in January to five counts of misdemeanor menacing and two counts of disorderly conduct and received two years of supervised probation. He and his girlfriend are now living in Underwood.