By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona jury on Wednesday convicted the co-founder of a border militia group of molesting a 5-year-old girl but acquitted him of more serious sex charges, court officials said.
Christopher Allen Simcox, who co-founded the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in 2005, was found guilty of two felony counts of child molestation and one felony count of providing obscene material to a minor by the Maricopa County Superior Court jury.
Simcox, 55, was cleared of three felony counts of sexual conduct with a 6-year-old girl, charges that carried mandatory sentences of life in prison.
He faces up to 24 years in prison on each molestation charge at his scheduled July 5 sentencing, prosecutors said.
It was not immediately clear if Simcox would appeal. His advisory lawyer could not be reached for comment following the verdict.
Simcox, who represented himself in court throughout the trial, maintained his innocence against the charges for the alleged incidents in 2012 and 2013. He was arrested by Phoenix police in June 2013.
Prosecutors said Simcox preyed on the 5-year-old girl, who was the friend of one of his daughters, during scheduled parental visits with his children. He also showed the victim explicit films, prosecutors said.
“This young girl had the courage to come forward to stop the abuse and by doing so revealed his predatory behavior,” County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement. “With this verdict we have been able to seek justice for this victim.”
A former kindergarten teacher from California, Simcox helped start the border watch group to highlight what he said was the government's failure to secure the porous southwest border with Mexico.
Its force of housewives, office workers and veterans sat in lawn chairs in southern Arizona, looking for people they suspected of being undocumented migrants and reporting them to the U.S. Border Patrol, until the group disbanded in 2010. That year, Simcox launched a brief, unsuccessful bid against incumbent U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona in the Republican primary.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)