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Opening statements heard in assault case against Vikings' Cook

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook became so jealous when he discovered his girlfriend was talking to another man that he squeezed her throat until she couldn't breathe, a prosecutor said Wednesday during opening statements in Cook's domestic assault trial.

But a defense attorney said the woman lied about being choked in October. David Valentini told jurors that Chantel Baker was angry and drunk when she punched Cook multiple times, and the 6-foot-2, 212-pound football player reflexively struck her after she hit him in the back of the head.

"Just because he's bigger doesn't make him the aggressor," Valentini said. "He has a right to protect himself."

Cook, 25, is on trial in Hennepin County on felony charges of domestic assault by strangulation and third-degree assault. Authorities were called to his home early on Oct. 22 and said they found his girlfriend of 10 months crying and bloodied. They said the marks on her neck and hemorrhaging in her eye were consistent with strangulation. Medical records show her eardrum was perforated and she lost hearing for two weeks.

Cook missed that weekend's game against the Green Bay Packers because he was in jail. Assistant County Attorney Sarah Hilleren said Cook called Baker from jail and said it was her fault. Baker felt responsible and apologized, Hilleren said, and more than two weeks later, she went to police and said she had lied about being choked.

Hilleren said despite Baker's recanted statement, the evidence -- including photos of her injuries -- will prove Cook choked Baker.

According to opening statements, Cook, Baker, Cook's roommate and another man visited a strip club on Oct. 21. Hilleren said Baker was texting another man, and Cook got angry.

Valentini gave a different version, saying Baker was drunk and told another man via text that she loved him. Valentini said Cook was deflated because he intended to propose to Baker that weekend.

At Cook's house, Baker allegedly threw a lamp at Cook, but missed. Hilleren said Cook tossed the woman on the bed and began choking her, but Baker fought back. When she got up, Cook "walloped her so hard on the side of the head" that she hit the wall, Hilleren said.

Hilleren said a neighbor called 911 after hearing bangs, screaming, crying and Cook repeatedly yelling, "Are you talking to him? Why are you talking to him?"

In Valentini's account, Cook was trying to talk to Baker when she sucker-punched him in the face. Then, Valentini said, Cook was struck in the back of the head. Thinking Baker had a weapon, Cook turned to bat it away but instead hit Baker, Valentini said.

Valentini said Baker tripped and fell into the wall, then got up and began punching Cook in the face. Valentini said Cook held Baker's hands together near her throat to try to get her to stop punching him, which he said could have caused Baker's neck injuries.

The Vikings have said they won't make a decision about his status until after the trial, and Cook could face discipline from the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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