Alec Cook, the former University of Wisconsin student who pleaded guilty to a series of sexual assault charges, was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison and eight years of probation.

Heading into Thursday’s hearing, Cook faced a maximum of 39 years and 6 months in prison, along with $95,000 in fines.

Cook was first arrested in October 2016. Over the next year, he would be charged with 23 crimes stemming from 11 victims.

In late February, Cook pled guilty to five felonies — three counts of third-degree sexual assault, one count of stalking and one count of strangulation and suffocation. The remaining 18 charges were dropped.

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The hearing began with several victim testimonials. The statement from the first victim, who wished to remain anonymous, was read by an employee with the Rape Crisis Center.

“My body had become a crime scene, and my life had changed forever,” the statement said.

The second victim spoke on the psychological toll of Cook’s actions.

Through tears, she described her struggle with learning to trust people, and her anxiety in social situations after her encounter with Cook.

“I am different now,” the victim said. “If there is a man who walks close behind me, even in daylight, I will hold my breath and pray he does not touch me.”

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Dr. William Merrick, a forensic neuropsychologist, was called to testify about Cook’s mental health shortly after the victim testimonies. Merrick performed an evaluation of Cook after his arrest, and has had the opportunity to better understand his mental state in the aftermath of his crimes.

After his evaluation, Merrick gleaned that Cook had four mental disorders: other-specified personality disorder with narcissistic tendencies, substance abuse disorders with both cannabis and hallucinogens, and sexual sadism disorder.

Merrick suggested that Cook not receive a lengthy prison sentence, as they expose people to a “society of captives” that forces the prisoner to take on “antisocial, criminogenic traits,” which Merrick said in turn lead to higher recidivism rates.

“Personality disorders take several years to address in a substantive way . . . I think it would be next to impossible to get the kind of treatment he needs in prison,” Merrick said.

But Christopher Liegel, the lead attorney for the prosecution, cited Merrick’s testimony that Cook was not initially receptive to treatment.

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As a result, Liegel said Cook should be confined for as long as possible — rather than hope for him to seek a rather costly treatment on his own.

“Justice demands that he be taken out of society,” Liegel said.

Before lawyers delivered their final arguments to presiding judge Stephen Ehlke, one victim’s mother testified on the impact of Cook’s crimes on her family, the families of the other victims, Cook’s family and, ultimately, Cook himself.

There was no shortage of tears in Thursday’s court room, as Cook himself broke down while delivering his final statement, aimed at his victims and their families.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. You told the truth and everyone should believe you. This was my fault. You didn’t deserve this and neither did your families. To them too, I am so sorry,” Cook said.

Ehlke, in determining the sentence, said he put much thought and deliberation into each side’s views, giving special attention to the victims’ voices. 

Ehlke explained that when making his decision, he considered three different criteria: the protection of the public, the gravity of the offenses and the character and rehabilitation of the defendant.

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On these standards of judgment, Ehlke sentenced Cook to three years in prison, followed by five years of extended supervision and three consecutive years of probation. In total, that means Cook will face three years in prison and eight years of probation.

Ehlke elaborated that three years in prison would be congruent with Merrick’s recommendation to not issue a lengthy prison sentence, but would still address the gravity of Cook’s offenses.

“It would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the crimes to only sentence him to probation,” Ehlke said.

In addition, Cook will be on the sex offender registry for 15 years, is to have no contact with any of the victims or their family, must complete a risk and needs assessment and must not be on or around any UW campus.

Cook has the right to appeal the decision if he desires.

Shortly after Ehlke’s ruling, Cook was detained and led away by law enforcement.