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Continued: Suicide was the plan in Grand Marais court

GRAND MARAIS, MINN. - The man accused of bringing a gun into the Cook County courthouse and opening fire on a prosecutor and witness had intended to commit suicide, but then snapped as he retrieved the gun from his vehicle, family members said he told them Friday.

A jury had just found Daniel Schlienz, 42, guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct Thursday afternoon when he left a conference room meeting with his attorney to go outside for a breath of fresh air, authorities said, then came back brandishing a gun and opened fire on County Attorney Tim Scannell and witness Gregory Thompson.

Schlienz's father, Gary Schlienz, said his son told him he had planned to shoot himself.

"Then he said he went to the pickup and snapped," the elder Schlienz said, standing shocked in the town overlooking Lake Superior where his family has lived for decades. He said his son didn't "even remember what happened until he was on the floor with a whole bunch of people piled on him."

Daniel Schlienz sat in a jail visiting room Friday crying, remorseful and struggling to make sense of what he had done, his sister and father said minutes after visiting him at the Cook County Law Enforcement Center. (He has been transferred to the St. Louis County jail in Duluth.)

After the guilty verdict, Schlienz thought he was headed for a lengthy prison term, the family said. That put him at his wit's end, his sister Bev Wolke said.

Scannell, 45, was in fair condition Friday evening at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center, said Beth Johnson, a spokesman for Essentia Health. He's recovering from three gunshot wounds, two to the abdomen and one to the groin.

Thompson, 53, was in good condition after surgery Friday morning to remove a bullet from his knee, Johnson said. He suffered two gunshot wounds to the leg and one to the groin.

In the North Woods community of about 1,400 that bustles with hikers, canoeists and vacationers each summer, residents were wondering what to make of the violence. Residents said the community is so safe that people leave their car doors unlocked and lost wallets are typically returned to owners intact. Most everyone, it seems, knew one of the victims or the alleged shooter.

"That's too close to home. ... You don't expect something that serious in a small town," said retired teacher Ralph Latham, who said he knows the county attorney. "In a court, in a courthouse, in an official building: That set of circumstances makes you shudder."

"I'm just glad that with the community we have here, we can all bond together," said Marcela Perez-Abreu, as she walked out of the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op, her child in tow. It may be hard for the families, she acknowledged. "There's no real anonymity in a town this size."

"If we had had any idea that this was going to happen, I would have done everything in my power to stop it," Gary Schlienz said. "The whole family is just devastated ... how do I even face my friends?"

Long legal trail

Schlienz's case has been winding through the courts for years.

In February 2006 a girl reported to Cook County authorities that she began a sexual relationship with Schlienz the year before, when she was 15 and he was 35. She alleged the relationship continued after she turned 16. He bought her rum, she alleged, and would force himself on top of her and rape her.

He was charged in March 2006 with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, false imprisonment, and other charges. Afterward, two more girls said Schlienz got them drunk and raped them. One was 17, the other 15. More charges followed.

Schlienz, who adamantly denied all the charges, was scheduled for jury trial in November 2006 when all three complaints were resolved with a plea agreement whereby Schlienz would enter a so-called Alford plea -- when a defendant asserts innocence but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict him -- to multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct and receive no more than four months in jail. When Schlienz learned he would probably have to spend a year in the Northeast Regional Corrections Center, he tried to withdraw his plea.

Scannell opposed the plea withdrawal. "The state has, and the victims have, invested a great deal of time, energy and willpower bringing the cases to the point that they're at right now," he said according to a court transcript from his 2007 sentencing. "It would also be burdensome and extremely unfair to the victims in this case. They have been on an emotional roller coaster."

The judge denied Schlienz's request. He twice appealed, and last January his conviction was reversed and the case was sent back to Cook County where the trial took place this week.

'Get some counseling'

The courthouse does not have the metal detectors so common in the Twin Cities and elsewhere around the country.

"We're certainly going to review our security at our courthouse after this event," Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk said, adding that nothing occurred throughout the trial to suggest the Schlienz, a former boxer, would turn violent.

For years, Duluth boxing coach Chuck Horton said, the boxers at the gym where Schlienz trained were wary. He was a handsome, fit boxer in his 30s but had no interest in women his age. Instead he always talked about -- and to -- teenagers and women far too young for him. He was often found hanging out with teenage girls at the local Holiday gas station, or at high school parties.

"I tried to tell him, 'You should get some counseling. Something's not right. Whatever's making you tick is broken,'" said Horton, who was scheduled to testify Wednesday before learning his testimony would be blocked. "But he always acted in his mind, like he thought he was a 17-, 18-, 19-year-old guy."

Horton, who said he didn't have enough proof that Schlienz was actually assaulting girls to go to the police, said it became too much, and he fired Schlienz from his boxing team about nine years ago.

When Scannell called him about testifying against Schlienz, he was relieved. "I said, 'It's about time.' [Scannell] goes, 'I know.'" Horton said. "This guy took him on and said 'Finally, enough.'"

Charges in the shooting are expected to be filed Monday.

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. plouwagie@startribune.com • 612-673-7102 ; asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921

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