MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook was acquitted Thursday of all charges that he assaulted his girlfriend in October and said his next move is to get ready to play after missing most of last season.
"I got a job to do. I missed 10 games. I got to make up for that," 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, Chantel Baker. Cook said he acted in self-defense when the fight turned physical. The jury acquitted him of those and two misdemeanor domestic assault counts.
Cook's acquittal opens the door to his return to the team. "We will meet with Chris in the near future and believe he deserves the opportunity to rejoin our organization," the Vikings said in a statement.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Cook likely will not face discipline under the league's personal conduct policy.
The Vikings initially suspended Cook after his arrest. While they later reinstated him to the active roster, they also told him to stay away from the team while the court process played out.
Cook is entering his third NFL season and will be counted on to help a Vikings secondary that struggled during last year's 3-13 season.
Cook bowed his head deeply over the table when he heard the verdict. Outside the courtroom, he said he had been on "an emotional roller coaster" and was deeply relieved.
Cook and 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 townhouse in the early hours of 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 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 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, but she 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 about five hours of deliberations that began Wednesday afternoon.
County Attorney Mike Freeman said it came down to whether jurors believed Baker's statements initial statements or her retractions. He said his office has gotten convictions in other domestic assault cases even when alleged victims denied abuse more vehemently.
"None of us like these cases, but they need to be brought," Freeman said. "And if there's anything positive that will come out of today, it is people just ought not to physically assault each other. I'm not talking about the legal sense of the word. Men quit hitting your women."
Defense attorney David Valentini said the defense never denied that Cook struck Baker; the question was whether it was self-defense.
"Having Chantel Baker and Chris Cook testify was the most important thing," Valentini said. "They were the only two people present. The first time that Mr. Cook's story was heard was in this courtroom."
Cook said he still has feelings for his former girlfriend but does not expect they will get back together.
He said he is hopeful that he can prove he deserves to be back with the Vikings. "I know it might take some time to earn the trust of the organization and the fans, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes," Cook said.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.