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Chris Cook

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Jurors in Chris Cook assault case take up questions

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS
  • Star Tribune
  • March 15, 2012 - 5:48 AM

After five days of testimony and nearly three hours of closing arguments Wednesday, a jury will now decide whether Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook brutally choked and assaulted his girlfriend last fall or was merely defending himself from the woman's angry, drunken attack.

The jury of seven men and five women received the case just before 2 p.m. Wednesday and quit for the day about 4:30 p.m. They'll resume deliberating Thursday morning.

During closing arguments, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Liz Cutter and defense attorney John Lucas each tried to convince the jury that the other sought to distort the facts to suit their perception of what happened.

"Jealousy, anger, rage and misplaced guilt. These are the emotions that drove the events of Oct. 22 and shaped them after," Cutter said. "We are here today because of the defendant's rage."

Lucas countered that prosecutors are not mind readers, and cannot know why Chantel Baker, a 21-year-old college student, recanted her allegation that Cook choked her.

"It shows how you can take what people said and construct a story that goes from Point A to Point Z," he said. "And if there are things that don't fit there, you can wrench them in and make them make sense."

Cook is charged with felony domestic assault by strangulation and third-degree assault. Baker initially told authorities that Cook tried to choke her during the fight but later recanted and testified last week that she was not choked. On the stand Tuesday, Cook denied that he tried to choke her.

Prosecutors contend that Baker was pressured to recant the allegation and did so out of fear. Defense attorneys say she lied that night to ensure Cook went to jail and confessed to her misdeed three weeks later.

Baker also suffered a perforated eardrum after Cook slapped her on the side of the head, causing her to tumble either into a wall or nightstand, causing bruising and swelling to her face. Cook claims he slapped her in self-defense after she struck him in the back of the head with a shoe.

The jury must now decide whether Cook choked her and whether he was acting in self-defense when he slapped her. If he is found not guilty of both felonies, the jury can also choose to convict him of fifth-degree domestic assault, a misdemeanor.

Cutter said it wasn't just guilt about possibly ending Cook's career that caused Baker to backtrack on the choking allegation.

"She's a 21-year-old college kid. She had no idea that when she reported the assault that she would see it on the national news the next day. She didn't realize the consequences of being truthful," Cutter said.

Lucas called Baker "courageous" for taking the stand and testifying about lying. He said she did so because she has a conscience, but not because she's still involved with Cook. The two haven't spoken since he was released from jail Oct. 26 and both will likely move on, he said.

"The only two witnesses in sworn testimony told you that there was no choking involved," Lucas said.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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