- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona jury on Wednesday convicted a founder of the Minuteman border-watch group of molesting one young girl, but it acquitted him of engaging in sexual conduct with another.

Christopher Allen Simcox was found guilty on charges that he molested a 5-year-old girl and showed her pornography. He escaped a mandatory life sentence when the jury acquitted him on charges that he engaged in sexual conduct with a 6-year-old girl.

A molestation conviction carries a sentence of 10 to 24 years in prison. Simcox, who was convicted on two molestation counts, is scheduled to be sentenced on July 5.

An attorney who assisted him at trial said Simcox, 55, will still likely spend the rest of his life in prison, given Arizona’s tough sentencing guidelines.

In closing arguments, a prosecutor scoffed at Simcox’s claim that the girls were pressured by adults to bring the allegations.

Simcox, who isn’t a lawyer but nonetheless represented himself at trial, told jurors that he didn’t abuse the girls.

His case was also noteworthy for Simcox’s insistence that he should be allowed to personally question the girls on the witness stand.

Prosecutors argued that letting Simcox question the girls would cause them emotional distress. In the end, Simcox got an attorney to pose the questions.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office prosecuted Simcox, said in a statement that he commended the victims for having the courage to come forward.

Kerrie Droban, the lawyer who served as Simcox’s adviser, said she was unsure whether Simcox would appeal the verdict.

“The jury listened attentively,” Droban said. “They gave him a fair trial.”

Simcox’s arrest in 2013 came after his career as an advocate for tougher immigration policies had fizzled.

The Minuteman movement stepped into the spotlight in 2005 when illegal immigration heated up as a national political issue. Minuteman volunteers fanned out along the nation’s southern border to watch for illegal crossings and report them to federal agents.

The movement splintered after Simcox and another co-founder parted ways and headed up separate groups.

Simcox, who once served as publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper, went on to briefly enter Arizona’s 2010 U.S. Senate primary against incumbent John McCain but dropped out of the race. His name didn’t appear on the ballot.

More than a decade ago, Simcox was sentenced to two years of probation for misdemeanor convictions in federal court for carrying a concealed handgun at the Coronado National Memorial near the Arizona-Mexico border in January 2003.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud.

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