Attorneys for Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook, scheduled to stand trial in March for felony assault charges against his girlfriend, will claim he was defending himself during the scuffle last month at his Eden Prairie home.
Cook, wearing a suit with his head shorn of his formerly long dreadlocks, appeared in court Tuesday with attorneys David Valentini and John Lucas. Cook said nothing, other than to respond to the judge's questions with, "Yes."
Asked after the hearing why he decided to clip his hair, Cook replied: "Lifestyle change."
The charges say Cook, 24, assaulted and tried to strangle the 21-year-old woman during an Oct. 21 fight at his home. On Nov. 10, prosecutors filed a second charge, alleging the woman suffered a perforated ear drum and now has hearing loss.
Cook's attorneys scheduled a hearing for January at which they are expected to seek dismissal of the felony domestic assault and third-degree assault charges and address other motions that have yet to be filed.
Cook remains on a paid indefinite leave of absence from the Vikings.
According to the charges, the woman said that Cook grabbed her, swung her onto a bed and choked her when he flew into a jealous rage because she had spoken to a former boyfriend. She claimed she grabbed Cook's hair to free herself, and when she stood up he allegedly struck her on the side of the head, a blow that sent her into a wall. She fled to a living room, where Cook again tried to "inhibit [her] breathing by squeezing her neck with his hand," according to the charges.
During the court appearance, Valentini said the woman recanted the strangulation accusations. He asked whether prosecutors would therefore dismiss the felony domestic assault charge. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Sarah Hilleren replied that neither charge will be dismissed. Hilleren said afterward that she could neither confirm nor deny that the woman has changed her version of events since the charges were filed.
Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney, said he couldn't comment specifically on the Cook case or allegations that the woman changed her story.
"In general, when we're talking about domestics between boyfriends and girlfriends, it's not unusual for the victim to occasionally modify her story," he said. However, he said, it's the office's policy to move forward even if that happens.
Valentini confirmed to Judge Robert Small that Cook will claim self-defense. The hearing to address motions is to be held Jan. 12. A trial is scheduled for March 5.
Valentini declined to comment outside of court, as did Cook. He would not elaborate on the self-defense claims, or the woman's recantation.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921