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Jury acquits Viking Cook of assaulting girlfriend

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook was acquitted Thursday of all charges that he assaulted his girlfriend last October and says his next move is to get ready for the upcoming NFL season.

"I got a job to do. I missed 10 games" last season, Cook told reporters outside the courtroom after the jury returned its verdict.

Cook, 25, was charged with one count of domestic assault by strangulation and one count of third-degree assault, both felonies, after a fight with his then-girlfriend of 10 months. The jury acquitted him of those and two misdemeanor domestic assault counts.

Cook bowed his head deeply over the table when he heard the verdict. Outside court, he said he had been on "an emotional roller coaster" and was relieved to be acquitted.

Cook still could face discipline from the NFL under its personal conduct policy.

Cook and Chantel Baker started arguing during a night on the town when Baker became angry with Cook for spending too much time with a lap dancer at a strip club, and he became angry with her for texting her ex-boyfriend. The fight turned physical at his Eden Prairie town house in the early hours of Saturday, Oct. 22.

Baker suffered a perforated eardrum and lost hearing in that ear for two weeks. She also sustained a bloody nose. Prosecutors said marks found on her neck and hemorrhaging in her eye were consistent with strangulation, but a defense expert disputed those claims.

Cook testified that he acted in self-defense. He said he knocked Baker into a wall and slapped her in the face, but only after she threw a shoe that hit him in the head and a lamp that missed. He denied ever choking her or intending to hurt her.

Baker, 21, of Norfolk, Va., initially told police and medical workers that the 6-foot-2, 212-pound player choked her twice as they fought, but recanted that claim less than three weeks later. Baker testified that she lied to police because she was angry and wanted them to haul Cook off to jail. Prosecutors contended she backed off her story under coercion and because she was afraid of ruining his football career. She also testified she still had one of the dreadlocks she tore off Cook's head.

The Hennepin County jury returned its verdict Thursday afternoon after beginning deliberations Wednesday afternoon.

Cook said after the verdict that he still has feelings for his former girlfriend but does not expect they will get back together. He also said he is hopeful he can win back the trust of the Vikings.

The Vikings kept him away from practices and out of games for the rest of the season as well, even though he was free on supervised release. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said before the trial that the team wouldn't decide on his future until after the case was resolved.

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