Cook County courthouse shooting suspect dies in custody

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2011 - 8:44 PM

Daniel Schlienz was jailed two weeks ago, accused of wounding a prosecutor and witness in the Cook County courthouse shortly after he had been convicted of sexual assault.

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Daniel Schlienz was charged with multiple offenses in connection with shootings last week in the Cook County courthouse.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Less than two weeks after authorities say he opened fire on a prosecutor and witness inside the Cook County courthouse, defendant Daniel Schlienz fell ill this week and died Tuesday morning in a Duluth hospital, officials said. Authorities are still investigating his death.

Preliminary results from an autopsy Tuesday ruled the cause and manner of death as "undetermined" pending additional lab tests that could take several weeks, authorities said. Foul play was not suspected.

"An investigation is pointing toward a physiological or medical condition and not a traumatic cause of death" St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said Tuesday afternoon.

The 42-year-old Schlienz was being held in the St. Louis County jail on charges of attempted first-degree murder and other crimes after shooting two people in Grand Marais on Dec. 15 after a jury convicted him of a sex crime.

On Monday, jail staff called 911 at 7:49 p.m. and an ambulance took Schlienz to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, authorities said.

Schlienz had complained of flu-like symptoms starting on Christmas day, Litman said "but nothing out of the ordinary or to the extent to cause any alarm upon our staff." A nurse at the jail examined Schlienz on Monday morning and he was taken by ambulance that night.

"It wasn't until [Monday] that his condition worsened," Litman said. Symptoms included nausea, vomiting, fever and body aches, Litman said.

Schlienz was in a cell by himself and being checked on at least every half hour, Litman said.

He died at the hospital about 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Schlienz's father, Gary Schlienz, said by telephone Tuesday afternoon that his son's death was "a very, very big shock" and the family didn't know what happened.

Though they had been worried that he was suicidal, they were told it was not suicide, he said. "I don't know if there's any relief in this or not," he said.

Family members were called to the hospital and were there when Daniel Schlienz died, "but it was too late," he said.

The death is under investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension along with the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and Medical Examiner's Office.

Revenge shooting

Schlienz, a former boxer, was upset after being convicted and wanted to hurt the prosecutor, Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell, according to a criminal complaint.

A Cook County jury had just found him guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct on the afternoon of Dec. 15 when he left a conference room meeting with his attorney, authorities said. He then brandished a gun and opened fire on Scannell and witness Gregory Thompson.

Schlienz later told a Cook County sheriff's deputy that he hadn't intended to kill anyone, but wanted to hurt them and "give them something to remember, indicating they had screwed with the wrong guy," the complaint said.

He got the .25-caliber pistol from his home during jury deliberations, the complaint added. He used bullets that he had earlier altered with a hacksaw because he thought they would cause more damage, the complaint said.

Scannell's wounds nearly killed him. One shot to the chest narrowly missed his heart, the complaint read. Another in his leg came close to his femoral artery. Thompson was shot twice in the leg and once in the groin.

Both men were discharged from the hospital Dec. 20.

Charges against Schlienz, of Grand Marais, included two counts of attempted first-degree murder, fourth-degree assault, possessing a gun within a courthouse, obstructing arrest and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

A community in shock

The news of Schlienz's death on Tuesday shocked the community of 1,400 along Lake Superior's North Shore and others who were close to the case.

"I feel bad for the victims of the shooting. Maybe this gives them closure, but my fear is maybe it doesn't," said John Lillie III, who was Daniel Schlienz's defense attorney in the criminal sexual conduct case and helped tend to the wounded after the shooting. "I know I'm struggling emotionally just dealing with the incident. ... The fact that he's dead now makes it even more surreal."

The shooting victims won't be able to face Schlienz in court, won't be able to hear whether he has remorse, won't be able to see him possibly convicted and imprisoned for the crime, Lillie said.

Cook County Commissioner Fritz Sobanja said that in the community, the whole ordeal has been "almost like a shock syndrome with many people. You don't know what to say."

He said Schlienz and his shooting victims are known in the small community and he feels for all of their families.

"We're all going to go through a healing process on this thing, that's for sure -- and learn from it," he said.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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