A murder charge was dismissed Wednesday against a California youth pastor accused in a Las Vegas man’s death, but prosecutors said they’re in the process of presenting the case to a grand jury.
Robert Cox, 35, was arrested by police in Manteca, Calif., last month and spent six days in jail in connection with the death of 55-year-old Link Ellingson.
Cox was accused of assaulting Ellingson outside the Four Kegs sports bar near Jones Boulevard and U.S. Highway 95 in June 2013, according to a Las Vegas police report. Ellingson died six months later at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center.
“We’re simply not proceeding with the criminal complaint,” prosecutor Robert Daskas said.
Justice of the Peace Janiece Marshall also ordered that $100,000 in bail money be returned to Cox, who appeared in court with a group of supporters that included his wife Julie and Las Vegas church friends.
Daskas told the judge he would notify defense attorneys when the grand jury makes a decision on the case. Daskas declined to comment further on the case.
While grand jury proceedings are held in secret, Cox’s attorney, Frank Cofer, said that even if the grand jury indicted Cox in Ellingson’s death, Cox would ultimately be acquitted.
Cox, a pastor at The Place of Refuge Church in Manteca, was on a “ministry outreach trip” in Las Vegas and had stopped to eat at the restaurant with his group that included his wife and church interns.
After finishing dinner, Cox and others waited in the parking lot while a few interns paid their bills.
Apparently drunk, Ellingson, 55, approached the group “aggressively” from the bar, exchanged words with the group, before a scuffle broke out, according to a police report.
Cox stepped in to stop Ellingson, and at some point Ellingson fell backward and hit his head on the ground. He was taken to University Medical Center with severe head trauma.
In October, before Ellingson died, Cox received a letter from prosecutors saying he would not be charged for the fight, his attorney Warren Geller said. But after Ellingson died, the Clark County District Attorney’s office filed a formal murder charge.
Outside of court, Cox said he was still cautious about the grand jury proceedings.
“I got excited when I got a letter saying no charges were going to be filed,” Cox said. “So I know not to get too excited about anything yet.”
In December, Ellingson died from loss of blood due to internal abdominal bleeding and “blunt head trauma due to assault,” according to a police report. Ellingson had undergone surgery to prevent a blood clot from entering his heart, and a filter designed to stop the clotting pierced his vein, and he bled to death, authorities said.
The Clark County Coroner’s office ruled his death a homicide because the filter was inserted to treat injuries from the altercation.
After Wednesday’s court appearance, Cox talked with reporters about the night of the scuffle, but Cofer stopped him from talking about the encounter with Ellingson.
Cox said he spoke with police the night of the altercation and they told him “everything was fine” before they let him go.
“Rob never at any point in time made any kind of false statement,” Cofer said. “He never committed any sort of crime, but due to the fact that there are criminal proceedings against him right now, I don’t want him to be testifying to the media.”
Cox said he called friends that night and told them what happened, and his description to police has never wavered.
“I always said exactly the same thing, and it’s been the same story the whole time,” Cox said.
Cesar and Jamie Bielich, friends of Cox since college who live in Las Vegas but were not with him during the quarrel with Ellingson, showed up to support Cox during the brief court appearance Wednesday.
They wore shirts that read “No weapon formed against us shall prosper. Bring justice. I support Pastor Rob.”
Jamie Bielich called the murder charge “ridiculous,” and said that Cox and his wife have remained positive throughout the process.
“They held their heads high and know that they have people taking care of it, and God’s in control,” she said. “And they continue to tell the truth. They’re interviewed over and over and over, and their stories stay the same, because they’re telling the truth.”
Robert and Julie Cox have two children — 5 and 7 — and had hoped to adopt more before he was arrested. The adoption process has been stalled while the case plays out in court, Julie Cox said.
Since Cox was arrested in the office of his California church, he’s prayed about the case, asking that “God’s wisdom will come through to judges or whoever.”
In the halls of the Regional Justice Center, he and his supporters locked arms and recited a proverb from the Bible: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Afterward, Cox said, “The whole time I’ve had to trust God.”
Contact reporter David Ferrara at 702-380-1039 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.