An analytical look at three conversation-starting developments for the Vikings this week ...
1) How exactly did cornerback Chris Cook walk away scot-free from his domestic assault trial?
Before we fast-forward too quickly and begin forecasting Cook’s future with the Vikings – understand he’ll be given every chance to start in 2012 – it’s worth looking back at Cook’s compelling trial, which ended Thursday afternoon with the 25-year-old defensive back acquitted on all charges.
So now Cook gets another chance to resume his NFL career.
Yet it’s worth asking how, with all the testimony and evidence presented, 12 jurors could ultimately conclude Cook deserved to walk free without any punishment whatsoever. After all, Cook never denied the fact that an October fight with his then-girlfriend Chantel Baker turned startlingly violent. And at the end of the scrap, Baker was left with a perforated eardrum, a bruised face and a bloody nose. Several marks on Baker’s neck also seemed to confirm the claims she made first to Eden Prairie police officers and later to detectives and doctors that Cook had tried to choke her. That’s what led to the heaviest felony charge: domestic assault by strangulation.
Cook also faced a count of domestic assault in the third-degree. And on Wednesday afternoon, when the jurors were sent into deliberations, they were instructed to consider a pair of lesser charges as well: domestic assault with intent to cause fear and domestic assault with intent to inflict bodily harm.
In the end, the jury came back with the same verdict across the board: not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.
In the end, Cook’s attorneys had delivered a self-defense argument that provided the jury with plenty to think about. Baker’s recantation of her previous statements to authorities and medical personnel was also a major element in the case and a major setback to the prosecution, whose case seemed straightforward and with few significant holes.
But those who have ever sat on a jury for a criminal trial – in 2010, I was a juror for a first-degree murder case – can appreciate the very detailed instructions that come with issuing a verdict. And in many cases, that old foundation phrase of the United States legal system, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” can really complicate things for those evaluating testimony and evidence. Remember Cook began his trial on March 5 with a presumption of innocence and the burden of proof sitting on the state’s shoulders. And in a trial like this one, the prosecution can present a case and a side of the story that’s more believable than the defense’s and it’s still not enough. All it takes is for the jury to have that reasonable doubt to steer away from a guilty verdict. So where does each juror and the jury as a whole draw that reasonable doubt line.
As Nick Dykstra, a juror in the Cook trial, told the Star Tribune’s Abby Simons on Thursday afternoon: “I thought there was an 80 percent chance that he was guilty, but that 20 percent reasonable doubt was just a couple percentage points enough to make me vote not guilty.”
That reason is telling and representative of what many jurors go through in cases such as this.
After all, one of the core principles defense attorney John Lucas used in his closing arguments was the notion that only two people who truly know what went on during that brawl on Oct. 22 are Cook and Baker. And under oath, before a judge and a jury during trial, their stories matched up. Enough to leave a reasonable doubt about the testimony of so many others called to the witness stand by the prosecution. Cook and Baker both asserted on the stand that she was the aggressor in the fight.
Following Thursday’s verdict both Lucas and fellow defense attorney David Valentini shared their view on Cook and the case.
Said Valentini: “We worked really hard. This took a lot of effort. What we wanted Chris to do was do his homework. We expected Chris to know the case and sit at counsel table with us and be an integral part of this team. He read every report. He read every piece of evidence on the experts. He gave his opinion throughout the trial. And he had zero hesitation to testify. He wanted to tell his side of the story. And his side of the story was never told until we were in this courtroom.”
Lucas also acknowledged what many who know Cook well often say: that the Vikings defensive back is a friendly young man, so often engaging and introspective.
“I didn’t know Chris at all before this,” Lucas said. “I’ve come to find he’s very thoughtful and considerate. He’s bright. I really think that about him.”
Now? It won’t be long before Cook is back with the Vikings, trying to make a difference in their secondary.
2) What is the significance of John Carlson’s arrival?
No real easy way to segue from such intense legal matters to the importance of the Vikings’ only free agent signing to this point. But when the Vikings made a mad rush at John Carlson on Tuesday night, expressing their interest and commitment in a way that caused the tight end to quickly leave Kansas City before a scheduled free agent meeting with the Chiefs there was plenty to digest. The Vikings had Carlson’s ear and he bolted from Kansas City to connect with the brass at Winter Park.
General manager Rick Spielman’s interest in landing Carlson shows the commitment that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has expressed towards making tight ends a big part of the offense. It’s easy to envision Carlson and Kyle Rudolph operating together in two tight end sets next season, each able to put stress on opposing defenses with their pass-catching abilities.
Plus, the Vikings’ five-year commitment to Carlson also speaks to a bigger picture priority at Winter Park and that’s the hope to surround quarterback Christian Ponder with young playmakers that will be around for a while. The quest for continuity on offense is a major priority right now.
Carlson’s worth? We’ll need at least a full season maybe two to begin evaluating whether a deal worth a reported $25 million over five years was sensible. Yet on Wednesday, Carlson expressed his vision for how things will work out, excited about the core of playmakers in place – from Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin to Christian Ponder and Rudolph.
“My goal has always been to be a well-rounded player,” Carlson said. “Being able to contribute in the passing game, being able to stretch the field and make plays like that. But also I need to do the pass protecting that you need to do as an effective tight end in this league. I want to catch passes. That’s the fun part. But I’m also excited about doing a good job in the run game and protecting as well.”
3) What might the Vikings investment in defensive tackle Letroy Guion accomplish?
The 24-year-old Guion has agreed to a new three-year deal and the belief is that new defensive line coach Brendan Daly will be able to tap into Guion’s potential and turn him into a difference maker on the defensive front. The goal is to use Guion exclusively at nose tackle, where the Vikings badly need a spark.
In the team’s first season without Pat Williams in 2011, the Vikings lacked the consistent presence on the interior they had grown used to for the previous six seasons. Remi Ayodele’s first season with the team was an indisputable disappointment. Opponents faced few risks when double-teaming Kevin Williams. And linebacker Chad Greenway struggled to deliver many impact plays at all.
Now, the Vikings want Guion to compete with Ayodele to be the team’s starting nose tackle in 2012. And the belief is that if he plays up to his potential – which didn’t happen in 2011 after a promising preseason – the Vikings’ defensive front could again be one of the most menacing in the NFC. After all, Jared Allen is still on one end with Brian Robison and Everson Griffen also capable of taking another step forward in 2012.