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Updated: March 15th, 2012 2:36pm
Chris Cook found not guilty on all counts in domestic assault trial

Chris Cook found not guilty on all counts in domestic assault trial

by The Associated Press
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A jury found Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook not guilty on all counts in his domestic assault trial.

The case against Cook went to the jury Wednesday after attorneys for both sides clashed over whether he choked his then-girlfriend or simply tried to defend himself during a fight last October.

The jurors deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday afternoon before returning Thursday for more deliberations. Cook, 25, was charged with domestic assault by strangulation and third-degree assault in the incident with Chantel Baker, 21, of Norfolk, Va.

Both are felony counts and carried the possibility of prison time. Prosecutors had said that if Cook was convicted, he likely would have faced only probation under the state's sentencing guidelines because he had no prior felony record.

"I'm going to get ready. I got a job to do," Cook told reporters after the verdict. "I missed 10 games. I got to make up for those."

The Vikings issued a statement Thursday that gave every indication he would be welcomed back.

"We respect the legal process and the decision regarding Chris Cook," the statement read. "We have also thoroughly considered Chris' situation and how he has approached this matter. We will meet with Chris in the near future and believe he deserves the opportunity to rejoin our organization."

The Vikings kept Cook out of practices and games for the rest of the season after his arrest in late October, even though he was free on supervised release.

The Vikings are shorthanded at cornerback and it wouldn't be surprising if their top pick in the 2010 draft gets an opportunity to win the starting job that had been held by the recently-released Cedric Griffin at right cornerback.

While Cook could face discipline from the NFL under its personal conduct policy, it does not appear that will happen. League spokesman Greg Aiello issued a statement Thursday that read, "We will review the facts, but we do not expect league discipline in this matter."

In closing arguments, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Liz Cutter told the jury, "We are here today because of the defendant's rage. We are here today because the defendant strangled Chantel Baker."

Defense lawyer John Lucas countered, telling jurors Cook defended himself against an angry young woman who had been drinking leading up to the fight. Lucas argued that the state's case was a mishmash of phone conversation snippets and cherry-picked evidence strung together.

"You can get there, you can get to `guilty,' but you have to make a lot of speculations to get there," Lucas said.

Hennepin County District Judge Robert Small told jurors that if they found Cook acted in self-defense and that his actions were reasonable, they must acquit him.

Baker suffered a broken eardrum and a temporary hearing loss in the fight. Cutter told jurors that Baker's injury met the legal definition of "substantial bodily injury" that the law requires to convict someone of third-degree assault.

Cook brought Baker to the Twin Cities so she could see the Vikings play the Green Bay Packers on the weekend of Oct. 22. The two got into an argument the night she arrived because she thought he spent too much time with a stripper giving him a lap dance. He then got mad when he discovered she was texting an ex-boyfriend. The fight turned physical back at his Eden Prairie townhouse in the early morning hours of Oct. 22.

Baker told police, a paramedic and an emergency room physician that Cook placed his hand around her neck twice during the fight. But she recanted that statement less than three weeks later, and testified last week that she had lied to police because she was angry with Cook.

This week, Cook denied that he tried to choke Baker. He testified he slapped her in self-defense after she struck him in the back of the head with a shoe and threw a lamp at him.

Cutter told jurors that it's not uncommon for domestic violence victims to recant. She said Baker's original statements -- made within minutes of the incident -- were more reliable than her denials.
Cook missed the game against the Packers while he was in jail.

Judd Zulgad contributed

© The Associated Press
In this story: Chris Cook, Cedric Griffin