Mark Morris | Legal trench warfare in sex torture case

Other than the topics at hand — torture and commercial sex trafficking — the guilty plea of Bradley Cook last week was a remarkably upbeat affair.

The judge was solicitous of the defendant, who himself was pleasant and polite. Cook even repeated, verbatim, portions of the plea litany, rather than answer with a grudging yes or no.

“I waive my right to a jury trial, your honor,” Cook said brightly.

Even so, the plea hearing culminated 15 months of legal trench warfare between a determined defense lawyer and a dogged federal prosecutor’s office.

The case also is a striking example of what happens behind the scenes in those long months between an indictment and a case’s resolution.

Indicted with four others in September 2010, Cook was accused of participating in a conspiracy to sexually enslave a young woman in a trailer home near Lebanon, Mo. Prosecutors added a sixth defendant later.

Immediately following the indictment, defense attorney Carter Collins Law launched a furious and unsuccessful effort to have Cook released on bond, appealing his detention order to a federal appeals court.

That effort became personal in short order when prosecutors alleged that Cook had plotted in jail to have the purported torture victim and a federal prosecutor killed. (Cook and his lawyer denied the plot, blaming it on unreliable jailhouse snitches. Prosecutors agreed to drop a subsequent murder-for-hire charge when he pleaded guilty.)

Undeterred by the detention issue, Law launched a tsunami of 14 substantial legal filings between March and August, seeking to clarify and undermine the prosecution’s case. Prosecutors answered in kind. But, one by one, a federal magistrate judge denied defense motions.

Finally, on Nov. 28, a magistrate recommended that the trial judge deny one of Law’s longest-standing requests: the suppression of all the electronic evidence seized from Cook’s home.

Though authorities have not disclosed what they found, court records show they were looking for a DVD of the alleged victim and evidence that Cook had watched her torture on his home computer.

So often, a failed suppression effort is the catalyst for plea negotiations. Though Cook agreed to a 20-year sentence, he probably would have faced more had he been convicted at trial.

Trial for the remaining defendants is scheduled to open Feb. 13. From the case file, defense lawyers seem intent on arguing that the purported victim was a willing participant in a completely legal sadomasochistic lifestyle.

For all his arguments, that’s one Cook wasn’t prepared to take to a jury.