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No-contest plea to child abuse gets mom 8 years

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A judge sent away a mother for eight years in prison Monday based on her no-contest plea to nine counts of sex-related offenses involving her husband and their youngest three children in the family home.

S. COX: Eligible for release after 6½ years

S. COX: Eligible for release after 6½ years

Sheryl Rae Cox and her husband, Matthew Clifford Cox of Sandia Park, were indicted in 2010 on nearly 90 counts of sexually abusing the couple’s children.

The couple had abandoned a “Christian lifestyle,” and adopted one that involved nudity and touching, the prosecution said in court filings. The illegal sexual touching had gone on for four years when the eldest made a disclosure and then all three – two girls and a boy – were interviewed at a safe house.

The children were ages 16, 14 and 12 at the time of the interviews. They were removed from the household and have not been returned, court filings say.

But Sheryl Cox was a victim herself, said attorney Stacey A. Ward, who entered the case representing her in 2013 after the accused woman became dissatisfied with her defense.

“It has been our position all along that there was a failure to protect, but not actual abuse, on her part,” Ward said after the sentencing before 2nd District Judge Briana Zamora.

Zamora sentenced Matthew Cox to 18 years in prison earlier this year.

Ward said Sheryl Cox, 49, was raised by an evangelical, controlling, abusive father and that kind of relationship was replicated in her marriage.

“To me, what this entire tragic case represents is how utterly we fail women who come from that sort of background when we expect them to function in the same way as women not raised in that sort of situation,” she said.

“If you think you’re a doormat and your natural place in life is to be that – to think that kind of woman is going to be a protector and tigress for her children is absurd.”

Matthew Cox wrote a novel and published it electronically after his arrest on the charges, describing the family’s nude lifestyle and family meetings he and his wife conducted. In the novel, he describes his belief system and says nudity is not about sex, according to a story published about it in the Mountain View Telegraph. Cox also wrote about meditation and astral travel, the story said.

Ward said the case was not about a nude lifestyle, although she originally thought it was.

“If I thought it was about a nudist household and children manipulated into making allegations … I would have gone to trial. But that is not what our investigation showed,” she said. “I have every reason to believe children were molested by their father.”

The prosecution said trial evidence would have shown they also were sexually abused by their mother.

Matthew Cox, from whom Sheryl Cox is now divorced, also entered a no-contest plea in January to 10 counts of the indictment, including criminal sexual contact and sexual exploitation.

Matthew Cox suffered head injuries in a “brutal beat(ing)” while he was in prison in June, as well as “a serious concussion not adequately addressed by New Mexico Corrections officials,” according to a court filing in his case. Attorney Scott Davidson asked for a modification of Cox’s sentence, contending Cox was in danger and claiming that Corrections was “incapable of protecting him and ensuring his personal safety.”

Ward said she believes there is less violence in the women’s prison.

“I’m hoping she doesn’t face the kind of conditions that her husband has, in spite of the charges,” she said.

“She’s an exceptional photographer and an exceptional cook. She’s got a lot of skills and I intend to talk to the warden about the possibility of having her teach, if they’ll let her.”

Sheryl Cox won’t be eligible for release until she has served 6½ years.

Terms of the plea agreement call for both parents to register as sex offenders upon release and comply with other conditions, including participation in a sex offender treatment program.

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