When Manteca Pastor Robert Cox was first interviewed by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police about a fight outside of a popular restaurant in June of last year, he told them he had punched the other man in the face.
But in his written statement provided later Cox claimed otherwise, saying that after being battered by the other man, 55-year-old Link Ellingson, he grabbed him by the waist and the two fell to the ground. He made no mention of throwing a punch.
Police, and the Clark County District Attorney’s office, believe otherwise.
In a three page declaration of warrant that was filed on Oct. 9 of 2013, Cox – an Associate Pastor at The Place of Refuge Church in Manteca – was initially accused of battery with substantial bodily harm.
On April 17 that charge was increased to murder after Ellingson died due to complications to injuries sustained in the fight and the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. A criminal complaint was filed in early May.
Cox was arrested by Manteca Police at The Place of Refuge on Tuesday. Whether he will be extradited to Nevada – or released on the condition that he appears in court to enter a plea – will be a decision between the Nevada prosecutor and the San Joaquin County district attorney’s office.
Cox’s lawyer, Warren Gellar, said that on Friday he had worked out a deal with Nevada prosecutors that would release his client from custody under the agreement that he appear in Las Vegas court to stand for the charges.
Gellar said that he personally posted a $100,000 bond – Cox is, as of Friday evening, being held at the San Joaquin County jail on a no-bail extradition warrant – under the belief that the Clark County district attorney’s office would work with the local district attorney’s office to facilitate his release.
But according to San Joaquin County prosecutor Robert Himelblau, the likelihood that anybody accused of murder in another state – unless there were extreme extenuating circumstances – would be released on their own recognizance would be very, very slim.
“I don’t know the case specifically, but we’re just talking about somebody agreeing to show up in court in another state like they had promised,” Himelblau said. “We also have to take into account the safety of the local residents as well. The odds of something like that happening are very slim.”
Gellar said that his client’s innocence was clear.
“I can tell you that when we appear in court we’re going to enter a not guilty plea and Mr. Cox is absolutely innocent of any murder charge,” he said.
Cox, his wife Julie and a team of young people were in Las Vegas on a “missionary outreach trip” when they decided to go to dinner at the Four Kegs Sports Bar – an eatery that was featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Several witnesses report seeing what happened after the confrontation took place outside, but none, according to the court filings, saw what led up to Ellingson falling to the pavement.
A nearby security camera, according to the declaration, shows that when the man fell backwards he did so on his own and without anybody on top of him – a contradiction to the written report that Cox gave Las Vegas Metro police. When the investigator asked for a list of the individuals that were present on the trip, according to the report, Cox initially agreed, but then said that after speaking to the church board he was hiring an attorney and wouldn’t proceed without legal counsel.
No list or contact information was ever provided.
In a story published in The Bulletin by reporter Rose Albano Risso on Dec. 1, 2013, Cox said that the church’s affiliation with Global University and Leadership Training program would likely draw in more participants from Las Vegas.
Two weeks after, on Dec. 16, Ellingson was pronounced dead at the Summerlin Hospital emergency room when a filter placed to prevent blockage in his lungs pierced the vein that carries blood from his brain.
Clark County Medical Examiner Dr. Lary Simms wrote in his autopsy report on April 17 that a significant contributing factor in the death was blunt head trauma due to assault, and ruled the case a homicide. A warrant for Cox’ arrest on murder was issued, and a criminal complaint was formally filed on May 9 stated that Cox “willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, with premedication and deliberation, and with malice aforethought, killed Link Ellingson, a human being, by punching the said Link Ellingson in the face.”
Cox is married and has two children. A statement posted by the church on Wednesday reiterated Cox’ story that Ellingson was the instigator and he was defending those in the group that were being attacked. At least two people, the statement said, were treated at a nearby hospital for concussions and Cox sustained a broken finger.