Cook county attorney Tim Scannell
, Cook County
Daniel Schlienz, 2001 file photo
Copyright Duluth News Tribune , Copyright Duluth News Tribune
Dec. 15: Court rampage follows verdict in Grand Marais
- Article by: Chao Xiong and Mary Lynn Smith
- Star Tribune staff writers
- December 15, 2011 - 11:57 PM
Attorney John Lillie III knew his client Daniel S. Schlienz was angry after being convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct Thursday afternoon.
"I was talking with his mother ... and the next thing I know, boom, I hear what sounds like a gunshot," Lillie said.
Lillie said Schlienz, 42, was arrested moments later, after County Attorney Tim Scannell and three others were wounded in a shooting at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais.
Two people were treated for minor injuries at the Grand Marais hospital and released. Scannell, 45, was listed in stable condition at St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, where he was being treated for three gunshot wounds. Grand Marais resident Gregory Thompson, 53, was also taken to St. Mary's with multiple gunshot wounds. He was listed in fair condition Thursday night.
Lillie said the shooting -- believed to be the first inside a Minnesota courthouse in nearly a decade -- occurred about 4:15 p.m., just after a jury convicted Schlienz of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a victim under 16 and acquitted him of a second count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Schlienz had previously pleaded guilty to the offense, but he had won a new trial after the state Appeals Court ruled officials had reneged on a promise that he wouldn't spend more than four months in jail.
At the sound of gunfire Thursday, Lillie ran out of the courthouse conference room and heard a man pleading, "I've been hit! Help me! I've been shot!"
Lillie darted toward the voice as Schlienz's mother and a court bailiff chased Schlienz into Scannell's office.
Lillie picked up Thompson and dragged him outside where a car and driver happened to be parked.
Multiple gunshot wounds
Lillie ran back into the courthouse and warned workers on the first floor to shut themselves into an office and call 911. Two more shots rang out from the second floor.
"I hear screaming, 'I've been shot! I need an ambulance!' Just screaming and screaming," Lillie said. "The county attorney has crawled 10 feet to the top of the stairwell and can't move. He's been shot in the leg and the stomach."
Lillie used Scannell's belt as a cinch around his leg. Scannell, in shock, screamed for an ambulance and told Lillie to make sure his wife knew he loved her. His breath began to grow shallow and labored.
"He kept saying he couldn't breathe over and over," Lillie said.
Scannell slumped over and tried to lie down, but Lillie sat him up so blood wouldn't pool in his lungs, all the while urging the county attorney to keep breathing and telling him he was doing well.
First responders and sheriff's deputies arrived in a matter of minutes. Lillie said he believes that the bailiff and assistant county attorney were hurt while wrestling with Schlienz, who was arrested at the scene.
Authorities have released few details about the incident, saying only that three people suffered gunshot wounds.
No metal detectors
The small Cook County Courthouse, where fewer than 50 people work, had just closed for the day at 4 p.m. Unlike many courthouses throughout the country, it doesn't require visitors or employees to go through metal detectors. "This is a very small courthouse. This is a very small community," County Commissioner Janice Hall said. "There's a sign on the door that says no firearms allowed beyond this point."
Commissioners have "never really considered" adding metal detectors, Commissioner Jim Johnson said. "You always feel safe there. If we had an issue or felt at risk, we would have a sheriff deputy be present as a deterrent."
In Hennepin County, metal detectors were installed in 2005, following a fatal shooting at the courthouse in 2003.
Lillie said he didn't know that Schlienz was armed or that he was so enraged with his conviction that he would attack the prosecutor.
"It doesn't make sense," said Lillie, who described Scannell as a "real good person, a good attorney, very easy to work with, very reasonable, very fair."
The courthouse will be closed Friday in Grand Marais, a quiet town of about 1,400 people on the North Shore of Lake Superior about 110 miles north of Duluth, on the edge of canoe and cabin country.
"It's a very peaceful and friendly community," said Bill Hennessy, who was the Cook County attorney for 12 years before retiring in 2006.
Scannell, who was elected to the job in 2006, served as assistant county attorney under Hennessey.
"I was in shock," Hennessy said after learning about the shooting. "I thought this was the safest county in the state. I'm just absolutely shocked."
Scannell, a father of two, is active in the community and teaches youth tennis, Hennessy said. Scannell moved to Grand Marais because his wife grew up here, he said. Her father, Richard Swanson, served as county attorney for many years.
Schlienz's mother, Ginger Berglund, was shaken and weary and not ready to talk about the day's events. She said she didn't believe her son, who has been a professional boxer, had a gun when he first arrived at the courthouse but likely retrieved it from his truck later. When she saw the gun, she said, she tried to get it away from her son.
According to a ruling issued by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in January, Schlienz was convicted in 2007 of third-degree and fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, violating a restraining order and gross misdemeanor harassment after agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for a maximum 120-day sentence.
A pretrial sentencing report, however, recommended he be incarcerated at North East Regional Correctional Center (NERCC), in St. Louis County for one year while he completed a sex-offender treatment program. The judge imposed that sentence and refused to allow Schlienz to withdraw his guilty plea.
The Appeals Court said that Schlienz should have been allowed to change his plea and go to trial when the plea agreement was not honored and sent his case back to Cook County District Court.
His trial began Monday.
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