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Plea deal reached in Cobb case

BISMARCK — Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz said a plea agreement has been reached with white supremacist Craig Cobb, who is accused of terrorizing residents in the small town of Leith.

A change of plea hearing is set for 3 p.m. Thursday in Burleigh County before Judge David Reich, who must approve the agreement.

Schwarz said the deal calls for Cobb to plead guilty to one of the six felony terrorizing charges he faces. The other five terrorizing charges would be reduced to Class A misdemeanor menacing charges.

Under the recommended sentence, Cobb, who has been in jail since Nov. 16, would not serve any additional jail time.

He would be required to serve four years of supervised probation, with strict conditions.

Schwarz wouldn’t elaborate on the details of the conditions, but said Cobb would not be able to own a firearm again. He said Cobb has indicated he will not return to Grant County and is expected to divest his property holdings there.

“It’s my understanding that he’s executed deeds and he’ll be filing them afterward,” Schwarz said. “He won’t be coming to Grant County.”

Schwarz said Cobb will not be allowed to move in with co-defendant Kynan Dutton in Underwood, as some residents there had feared. Dutton had previously pleaded guilty in the terrorizing case. The terms of Dutton’s probation do not allow him to associate with known felons.

Dutton had joined Cobb to live in Leith as part of Cobb’s plan to make it a haven for white supremacists and take over the town’s government.

They were accused of terrorizing residents of the town while conducting an armed patrol in November.

Schwarz said he expects Cobb to seek an interstate compact that would allow him to serve his probation in another state.

Schwarz described the agreement as “not a perfect resolution,” but said it’s acceptable to a majority of the alleged victims and “inside the realm of fair under all of the circumstances and the latest developments.”

“It’s not everything that I want. It’s not quite as severe as I think would be appropriate. But in the overall picture of things with recent developments, it’s acceptable,” he said. “It’ll be good for the victims, it’ll be good for the town, it’ll be good for the county.”

Leith Mayor Ryan Schock said the plea agreement is disappointing to him “and a lot of people,” adding, “Everybody’s been pushing for the trial and to sentence him to as much time as he can possibly get.”

Schock said he doesn’t think Cobb will return to Leith, but he said until Cobb’s property is in the hands of the city or someone he trusts, “I don’t trust the situation.”

He said he’s concerned Cobb will try to do what he did in Leith elsewhere.

“It’s not like the city of Leith is passing the buck to another town, but it’s like we could have stopped it here, and now they’re just letting him out,” he said.

Lee Cook, a Leith City Council member and, according to Schwarz, the only one of Cobb’s alleged victims to demand he go to trial, said he doesn’t believe Schwarz ever planned to take Cobb to trial and that the plea deal was no surprise.

“Justice has failed here,” Cook said.

Dutton pleaded guilty last month to reduced charges of menacing and disorderly conduct. His plea agreement required him to testify in Cobb’s case, and Schwarz said he believes that condition played a role in Cobb’s desire for a plea agreement.

“This plea agreement originated from an offer put forward by Mr. Cobb through his attorney, and that took place shortly after Mr. Dutton entered into his plea agreement,” he said.

Dutton wasn’t going to give damning testimony about Cobb “so much as he was going to tell me and a jury what misinformation Cobb was telling Dutton to get him to go along with the inappropriate actions,” Schwarz said. Dutton told Forum News Service last week that he believed his testimony would help set Cobb free, calling the charges “bunk.”

Last week, a judge granted Schwarz’s request to drop the felony terrorizing charge against Cobb related to alleged victim Gregory Bruce, a New Leipzig resident who operates an unofficial website for Leith and has been critical of Schwarz’s handling of Cobb’s case. Schwarz, who claimed Bruce made a comment about not being afraid of Cobb that contradicted his earlier statements, said Wednesday that Bruce “severely damaged the state’s case.”

“Prior to Mr. Bruce breaking his promise to refrain from unnecessary comment, we went from an 80 to 85 percent chance of a conviction to something much less,” Schwarz said.

“Mr. Bruce brought into suspect not just his circumstances but by inference tried to make the rest of these folks look like him,” he said.

“Mr. Bruce wants to preach tolerance, but all he wants is tolerance of his ideas and everything else must be ignored,” Schwarz said. “And in that, he shares something with Mr. Cobb.”

Asked to respond, Bruce said by phone, “Mr. Schwarz, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Bruce said he believes the recommended sentence for Cobb is too light.

“He should have been able to sit before a jury of peers and held accountable for what he did,” he said.

Bruce, noting Schwarz is running for a district judgeship, said “he wanted to sweep it under the rug so he could start his campaign.” Bruce said he plans to campaign for Schwarz’s opposition in the race.

Mike Nowatzki

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