A 27-year-old Edina man convicted of multiple sexual assaults while at the University of Wisconsin five years ago is back in court — this time in Hennepin County — for proceedings to determine whether he should be committed as a sexually dangerous person.
It's a unique case given the crimes occurred years ago in a different state, but also because Alec Ross Cook is a free man after serving a three-year prison sentence in Wisconsin. Prosecutors in Minnesota want him committed for longer, while Cook's attorney William Lubov said they are "scared as hell" about the prospect of him being locked up again for an indeterminate time.
Cook, a level three sex offender, voluntarily checked into a sex offender program in Minneapolis after he was released from prison in 2021. But the facility, Alpha Emergence Behavioral Health, no longer offers residential programming, leaving the Twin Cities with no alternatives. Cook will continue treatment elsewhere in June, Lubov said, in hopes that he won't be court-ordered instead to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
The program is often challenged with lawsuits, transfer backlogs and funding. It costs more than $156,000 per year to house a sex offender at the state's two locked, high-security facilities. There are around 740 men being treated at the sex offender program after designated by the courts as "sexually dangerous" or as having "sexual psychopathic personalities."
Prosecutors want Cook designated as both, saying they believe he is dangerous and highly likely to reoffend, given accusations by 11 women who said he strangled, stalked or assaulted them. Lubov counters that Cook has remained offense-free, celibate and sober since his arrest in 2016.
A group of Wisconsin legislators and elected officials sent a letter in 2018 to the judge expressing "dismay and outrage" over Cook's sentence. They called it "a slap on the wrist for a serial rapist whose violent and sadistic sex crimes will haunt his victims for years to come."
21 charges, 11 women
Cook faced 21 felony charges involving 11 women. Some were classmates; many were strangers he stalked on the UW-Madison campus. One woman said in her victim impact statement that "[m]y college years will never be the best years of my life." Another said she doesn't believe Cook can be rehabilitated: "[H]e's a sociopath. He has no empathy."
The court received three victim impact statements. Most didn't want any further involvement. Victims declined or did not respond to requests to comment for this story.
Cook pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three women and choking and stalking two others. He could have received 40 years. Prosecutors wanted 19. Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke gave Cook three years.
"In just three or fewer years, this predator will be back on the streets because men like Alec Cook, men with privilege, are above the law," the lawmakers' letter to Ehlke said.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections found in March 2021 that Cook didn't meet criteria for civil commitment. Hennepin County filed its petition in June 2022 after a Minnesota Corrections Department board unanimously found he should go through proceedings.
Cook offered to move back to Wisconsin if Hennepin County dismissed the petition, but prosecutors objected. That led to a three-week bench trial this spring with District Judge Michael Browne presiding.
Cook's fate is up to Browne, not jurors. He officially took the case under advisement as of May 17 and will issue a decision by late August. Browne left off by telling Cook that he should mentally prepare for all possible outcomes.
Browne could dismiss the petition, send Cook to the state's sex offender program or order a less restrictive option that would involve treatment along with supervised release until 2026.
"There are a lot of different ways this could turn out," Browne said.
A journal of sexual "targets"
Cook grew up in Edina, where his father is a real estate developer and mother a financial adviser. He said his childhood was normal and denied any abuse or neglect. His parents have said "they don't know where they went wrong," according to court records.
He excelled in school, despite issues with drugs and alcohol, and graduated in 2014 with a 3.65 GPA that he maintained in college before his expulsion. He earned his undergraduate degree while incarcerated.
Cook landed three jobs since prison, noting he got them through his dad. He wants to be an entrepreneur and podcaster, and sell real estate.
He's never had a long-term relationship, but he religiously studied books on pick-up artistry and seduction. For years, he journaled his sexual "targets" and a "bucket list."
Prosecutors in Wisconsin presented evidence that he kept a victim kill list, according to the Daily Beast.
In one notebook he wrote: "Getting with the women I want has become a MUST. Or else I'll end up killing myself."
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Elizabeth Beltaos opened trial by saying Cook went to UW-Madison with one goal: "To have sex with as many women as possible."
She said that involved lying, manipulating, grooming and "causing serious harm to the victims in this case." His offenses, beginning in 2014 until his arrest in 2016, escalated up to his most violent sexual assault. That victim went to police, which empowered other victims to report.
"He admits that he viewed women as objects and not humans," Beltaos said.
Cook testified that if women told him no, "I thought it was something to overcome" and "convince them otherwise."
In a college human sexuality course, his class notes mention sexual coercion and the impact of rape on victims. Beltaos asked if he learned rape was illegal. Cook said "probably."
Before he was sentenced in Wisconsin, Cook said it was hard to understand the charges against him. As recent as January 2022, notes from Alpha said Cook had persistent trouble defining his behavior as criminal.
At his sentencing, Cook apologized and said victims were telling the truth. But he later told his therapist that he was forced to say that. "After being in prison I grew resentful," he testified.
Cook was in sex offender treatment in prison before going to Alpha, but he was terminated because "I was not ready to be fully responsible."
Prosecutors said Cook got in trouble on several occasions at Alpha.
Asked to rate on a scale of one to 10 his risk of reoffending, Cook said three.
Beltaos said he continues to lack remorse— at times he faked crying on the witness stand — and he has regressed in treatment.
Three psychologists are split on whether Cook should be civilly committed.
Dr. Andrea Lovett, the first court-appointed examiner, testified that Cook is a manipulative clinical psychopath with a high risk of recidivism. The other court-appointed examiner, Dr. Paul Reitman, said the likelihood of Cook committing new sexual offenses has significantly declined.
Prosecutors Beltaos and Brittany Lawonn said Reitman — who at one point was seen giving Cook a thumbs-up — is biased. The other examiner, Dr. Thomas Alberg, who was hired by Cook's family for $50,000, did not support his commitment.
Lubov, Cook's attorney, said he doesn't believe Cook is receiving special treatment because of his family's means and privilege. He said he doesn't excuse Cook's offenses, but he said this should be about rehabilitation, not punishment.
Even if the judge decides against the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, Lubov said, his client "will never be free of this."
When Cook first stepped out into the world on his own at college, prosecutors said in a closing argument, the lives of 11 young women changed forever because of his actions.
"With total freedom," they wrote, "[Cook] will highly likely rape again."