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Case closed? Cobb pleads guilty, but awaits sentencing

FNS Photo by Kevin Cederstrom Craig Cobb is led into a Burleigh County courtroom by law enforcement officials for a hearing in Bismarck on Thursday.

BISMARCK — White supremacist Craig Cobb pleaded guilty to charges of terrorizing and menacing Thursday, but the judge in the case wants more information before handing down a sentence.

“I apologize for my behavior and I regret my actions,” a soft-spoken Cobb said before Judge David Reich in Burleigh County District Court.

Cobb, 62, was originally charged with seven felony counts of terrorizing for his alleged actions while leading an armed patrol in November in Leith, the small town southwest of Bismarck where he bought up property with the intention of creating an all-white enclave.

Cobb and his attorney had reached a plea deal with Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of felony terrorizing and five misdemeanor counts of menacing. One other terrorizing count was dropped last week at Schwarz’s request.

Under the recommended sentence for the guilty pleas, Cobb, who has been in jail since Nov. 16, would not serve any additional jail time. He would be on supervised probation for four years with several conditions.

But Reich did not issue a sentence Thursday, instead ordering a pre-sentence investigation, including a psychological evaluation.

Reich said he didn’t know the extent of Cobb’s criminal record other than what media have reported — Cobb is wanted on a hate-crime charge in Canada — and didn’t have the results of Cobb’s previous psychological evaluation. He also noted that five of the felony charges involved firearms.

“The court just doesn’t feel that comfortable issuing a sentence,” he said.

Cobb, appearing clean-shaven in blue jeans and a white shirt with the sleeves pulled up, will remain jailed at the Mercer County Jail in Stanton on $100,000 bond until the sentencing. Reich said he will ask that the presentence investigation be expedited so the court can “conclude this matter as soon as we can.”

Schwarz said Cobb would be 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 would be surrendered to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

Cobb also would have to refrain from alcohol and have no contact with the victims while on probation, including indirect contact via the Internet. The probation office also could use GPS or other means to track him, Schwarz said.

While it wasn’t part of the plea agreement, Schwarz said he and the victims took into account that Cobb has deeded his home in Leith to a disinterested third party and that he plans to deed his remaining lots there to the city or a third party.

Cobb’s court-appointed attorney, Ryan Heintz, said Cobb “knows there are better and more civil ways to go about disagreements between individuals.”

Schwarz told the judge that four of Cobb’s alleged victims were “100 percent” in favor of the plea agreement, one victim found it acceptable but wanted to see stiffer penalties and the other victim was adamantly opposed to the deal.

“This is a way for the folks of Leith and the citizens of Grant County to move on,” he said.

Three of the alleged victims — Bethany Haberstroh, her 21-year-old daughter, Akriti Haberstroh, and Leith City Councilman Lee Cook — were in the courtroom Thursday.

Bethany Haberstroh said before the hearing that she was concerned that the actions of Gregory Bruce — the outspoken New Leipzig resident who runs Leith’s unofficial website and previously was one of Cobb’s alleged victim until Schwarz dropped the terrorizing charge related to him — had hurt the state’s chances of convicting Cobb, and that a jury trial would turn into a “carnival.”

“And I’m not willing to risk protection of my daughter if (Cobb) would go free,” she said.

After the hearing, Cook was livid that Schwarz failed to mention him as being there when the judge asked if there would be any victim impact statements. Cook said Schwarz has refused to talk to him and that the plea deal was too lenient on Cobb.

“All he’s going to do is go to another community and start over with somebody else,” Cook said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.