Case against Chris Cook goes to jury

Chris Cook (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)

The felony assault charges against Vikings cornerback Chris Cook went to the jury, which deliberated for 2½ hours before heading home Wednesday without a verdict.

The domestic assault case against Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook went to the jury Wednesday after attorneys for both sides clashed over whether he choked his then-girlfriend – or simply tried to defend himself during a fight last October.

Jurors deliberated for about 2½ hours on Wednesday afternoon before going home for the day. Cook, 25, is charged with domestic assault by strangulation and third-degree assault in the incident with Chantel Baker, 21, of Norfolk, Va.

Both are felony counts and carry the possibility of prison time. Prosecutors say that if he's convicted, he likely faces only probation under the state's sentencing guidelines because he had no prior felony record.

In closing arguments, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Liz Cutter told the jury, "We are here today because of the defendant's rage. We are here today because the defendant strangled Chantel Baker."

Defense lawyer John Lucas countered, telling jurors Cook defended himself against an angry young woman who had been drinking leading up to the fight. Lucas argued that the state's case was a mishmash of phone conversation snippets and cherry-picked evidence strung together.

"You can get there, you can get to `guilty,' but you have to make a lot of speculations to get there," Lucas said.

Hennepin County District Judge Robert Small told jurors that if they found Cook acted in self-defense and that his actions were reasonable, they must acquit him.

Baker suffered a broken eardrum and a temporary hearing loss in the fight. Cutter told jurors that Baker's injury met the legal definition of "substantial bodily injury" that the law requires to convict someone of third-degree assault.

Cook brought Baker to the Twin Cities so she could see the Vikings play the Green Bay Packers on the weekend of Oct. 22. The two got into an argument the night she arrived because she thought he spent too much time with a stripper giving him a lap dance. He then got mad when he discovered she was texting an ex-boyfriend. The fight turned physical back at his Eden Prairie townhouse in the early morning hours of Oct. 22.

Baker told police, a paramedic and an emergency room physician that Cook placed his hand around her neck twice during the fight. But she recanted that statement less than three weeks later, and testified last week that she had lied to police because she was angry with Cook.

This week, Cook denied that he tried to choke Baker. He testified he slapped her in self-defense after she struck him in the back of the head with a shoe and threw a lamp at him.

Cutter told jurors that it's not uncommon for domestic violence victims to recant. She said Baker's original statements – made within minutes of the incident – were more reliable than her denials.

Cook missed the game against the Packers while he was in jail. The Vikings kept him out of practices and games for the rest of the season, even though he was free on supervised release. His future with the team is undecided.

"We will have something at some point," general manager Rick Spielman told reporters Wednesday. "We're waiting to let the legal process take its course and we'll go from there."

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