New attorney appointed to Cobb
BISMARCK — A fourth public defender was appointed Tuesday to represent a white supremacist accused of terrorizing a small southwestern North Dakota town that he wants to transform into an Aryan enclave.
Bismarck attorney Ryan Heintz will represent Craig Cobb after three appointed public defenders consecutively withdrew from his case, said Robin Huseby, executive director of the state Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents.
That is “certainly not the norm,” but conflicts are a part of the legal profession, said Huseby, whose agency oversees the state’s public defender system. She said she checked with Heintz about any possible conflicts before appointing him to represent Cobb.
Heintz didn’t immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment
Cobb, 62, who is wanted in Canada on a hate crime charge, moved to Leith about 1 1/2 years ago, bought land and a house, and encouraged others with similar views to join him to create a voting majority in the community of 23 residents. He has clashed with locals who want him to leave, and is accused of terrorizing residents with guns on Nov. 16. Cobb maintains he was patrolling the town because of violence and harassment directed at him.
He faces seven felony terrorizing counts that could land him in prison for up to 35 years. Cobb had been due in court Monday but that preliminary hearing was rescheduled to Jan. 13 because he did not have an attorney.
Public defenders Blake Hankey, Kent Morrow and Eric Baumann all asked to be removed from Cobb’s case.
Baumann said his relationship with Cobb deteriorated, but he declined to elaborate to The Associated Press. Hankey did not respond to an AP request for comment. Morrow said he had a conflict of interest because he donated money to a legal defense fund set up to help Leith. He declined to explain why or how much he donated. He has no family or friends living in Leith.
“Basically I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Jeff Schoep, leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, told the AP in September and again last month that he would consider helping Cobb to pay for his defense. Schoep said Monday that he hadn’t spoken with Cobb for two weeks, when he last reasserted that offer.
“I was not aware of his problems with keeping a public defender; however, as an American citizen he has the right to a public defender, and if that is the route he chooses to take I believe by law a public defender must be appointed,” he said.
There are 16 full-time public defenders in North Dakota and about 80 attorneys across the state who work on a contract basis for the Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents, Huseby said.
“We have never had a situation where he haven’t found someone” to represent a suspect, she said.
A man who joined Cobb in Leith, Kynan Dutton, also is due in court Jan. 13 on the same charges. His girlfriend, Deborah Henderson, said Monday that “the Leith movement is done” and that “there is no more white enclave,” according to The Bismarck Tribune.