Chris Cook said he was crushed when he saw his girlfriend exchanging text messages and photos with an old flame after a night out on the town.
"It cut me deep, it made me sick to my stomach, it hurt," the Minnesota Vikings cornerback testified on Tuesday. "I was in love with her. I'd planned to marry her."
Their subsequent argument in the bedroom of his Eden Prairie townhouse on Oct. 22 was loud and violent, he conceded. But he adamantly denied ever choking Chantel Baker, his girlfriend of 10 months.
Cook, 25, told jurors his account of what happened that night on the fifth and final day of testimony in his felony domestic assault and third-degree assault trial. He's accused of choking and hitting Baker, 21, a college student from Virginia. Jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday.
Cook's version of events leading up to the physical altercation was similar to earlier testimony, but it came under scrutiny during sometimes heated exchanges with a prosecutor, who painted him as a jealous and angry boyfriend who coerced Baker into later saying he didn't try to choke her.
During the night out, Cook testified, the two argued at a strip club because Baker believed Cook received a lap dance that lasted too long. She left the club and went out to their waiting limousine. When he followed her, he saw she was repeatedly texting someone. He discovered it was her ex-boyfriend.
When they got home, he said, he confronted her, and she threw a lamp in the bedroom and punched him. She struck him in the back of the head with a high-heel shoe, he testified. He turned instinctively and smacked her on the side of the head, causing her to trip over a suitcase and fall face first on a nightstand, resulting in a swollen face and ruptured eardrum. She got up and continued to punch him. When he held her down by her wrists on the bed, he said, she broke free and pulled out three of his dreadlocks. The argument continued downstairs until police arrived, called by a neighbor who heard the fight.
Cook, who said he'd never struck his girlfriend before, testified he wasn't thinking when he slapped Baker, but he said he was "shocked" to hear the allegations that he choked her.
"I wanted her to call someone and tell the truth," he said. "Tell them what had really gone on between us that night."
Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner, reviewed photos from that night and testified on behalf of Cook's defense. She said that the marks on Baker's neck -- scrapes that seemed to surround a circular pattern -- were about the size and shape of the earrings she was wearing that night. A photograph of Baker showed that her left earring was missing, the same side where the marks were.
Thomas also said that a broken blood vessel in Baker's eye was not consistent with petechia, which are pinpoint-type spots in the eye that are evidence of strangulation.
Cook's testimony was nearly identical to Baker's, who initially reported to police that he had choked her but recanted three weeks later. On the witness stand last week, she maintained she made up the story about being choked because she wanted him to go to jail that night. Prosecutors contend she recanted out of guilt that she placed her boyfriend's football career in jeopardy.
Under cross-examination, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Sarah Hilleren asked Cook why he never confronted Baker during jail conversations about the strangulation claims if they were false. Cook said he thought their conversation was about the overall incident, not specifically about choking.
"You're not in Miss Baker's head," Hilleren said. "Are you?" Cook countered.
Hilleren also asked Cook why, if he was falsely accused of strangulation, his chief concern was maintaining his relationship with Baker. "You're talking to the individual who you believe has wrongly accused you, and you're discussing whether she's being unfaithful," Hilleren said.
"Because I loved her and still wanted to be with her," he replied.
Hilleren challenged why Cook told the Eden Prairie police officer who arrested him that Baker was "angry, aggressive, violent" but left out pertinent details of the fight. Cook said he was trying to protect her.
"I didn't want to get either of us in trouble," he said.
The pending felonies against him were trumped by another concern during his four days in jail, he told his attorney, David Valentini.
"Me and Chantel's well-being."
Baker flew to Virginia after Cook's arrest. They haven't spoken since.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921