Chantel Baker served a dual purpose on the witness stand Wednesday.
To prosecutors, Chris Cook's onetime girlfriend was the victim of a brutal assault, choked and battered by a jealous boyfriend, only to recant her story days later out of guilt and fear that she could ruin the Vikings cornerback's career.
To Cook's defense attorneys, she was violent and destructive when she attacked Cook at his Eden Prairie townhouse Oct. 21, then lied that he'd choked her to ensure he'd spend the night in a jail cell.
Despite each side's spin, it's up to the jury to interpret the testimony of the 21-year-old Virginia college student, who recounted her story on the opening day of Cook's trial on charges of felony domestic assault and third-degree assault in Hennepin County District Court.
Prosecutors say Cook, 25, twice choked and "walloped" Baker during the 1:30 a.m. argument, bruising her face and tearing her eardrum. Three weeks after the incident, Baker backpedaled, saying she lied about being choked because she was angry at him.
During opening arguments, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Sarah Hilleren said Cook called Baker from jail less than 12 hours after he was arrested and told her he was going to miss his game against the Green Bay Packers because of her, compelling her to change her story.
The version Baker originally told police, Hilleren said, is likely true.
"This is about the defendant's jealousy and rage, and it is about Ms. Baker's misplaced guilt," Hilleren told the jury.
Cook's attorney, David Valentini, told the jury the evidence will show that Baker was lying about being choked, and any other injuries inflicted on her were the result of Cook defending himself after she sucker punched him, threw multiple lamps in the house and tore out three of his dreadlocks -- one of which she kept. They say Cook, for whom fast reflexes are a job requirement, only turned and struck Baker when she threw a high-heel shoe at the back of his head, leading him to believe it was a weapon.
"She told police 'I lied about the choking.' Ms. Baker came clean and the government didn't," Valentini said.
Under cross-examination, Baker admitted she had fabricated the choking story when police arrived.
"At that time of the night, I wanted him to go to jail," she testified. "I figured saying anything in my power would get him to go to jail that night."
It was the first time the two had seen each other since Cook's arrest. Cook, whose hair is now shorn close, held a hand to his face for much of Baker's testimony. She only made eye contact when asked to identify him.
Fueled by jealousy
Baker, who studies fashion merchandising at Old Dominion University, testified she'd been dating Cook for about 10 months. The evening of Oct. 21, Baker, Cook, Cook's roommate, William Grishaw, and Grishaw's brother piled into a limousine, went out to eat and later stopped by Schiek's strip club in downtown Minneapolis. Cook bought everyone a lap dance, and she testified that she became angry after his appeared to have taken too long.
The two argued and Cook snatched her phone from her hands and went inside, she said. It was there, she said, that he found text messages from her ex-boyfriend. Valentini said Cook, who was preparing to propose that weekend, was "deflated" when he saw the messages.
The two continued fighting back at the townhouse. Neighbors who heard the commotion called police.
Five days later, she contacted an Eden Prairie police investigator to explain that she had struck Cook as well, because she "didn't think it was fair" to tell one side of the story. She told police she threw the lamp first, and also threw the first punches at Cook, who was only trying to restrain her. Most importantly, she said, she was never choked.
But Hilleren said Baker reported the choking that night not only to police, but also a doctor, nurse and paramedic who examined her. The next morning, she was reluctant to leave Minneapolis despite her parents' orders. She wanted to stay and greet Cook when he got out of jail because of her guilt.
"Were you concerned about his career prospects?" Hilleren asked.
"Yes," Baker said.
"Are you still concerned about his career prospects?"
Testimony continues Thursday.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921