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Cook County attorney testifies about relationship with teen

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Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell wept on the witness stand Wednesday as he recounted his relationship with a 17-year-old girl during 2012, testifying that seeing the teenager helped keep him alive at a time when he was suicidal.

Northland's News Center reports Scannell was in tears within seconds of taking the stand at his trial in Duluth. He is charged with two felony counts of fourth degree criminal sexual conduct stemming from what prosecutors maintain was an inappropriate relationship with the teen. Scannell has said nothing illegal occurred and the relationship was consensual.

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Scannell is on leave as county attorney and his trial was moved away from Grand Marais, which is the Cook County seat.

WDIO gave the following account of what Scannell said during nearly two hours of questioning from his attorney, Joe Tamburino:

Scannell testified that he was a friend of the girl's family and had coached her in tennis and soccer and provided guitar lessons. His feelings toward her became romantic during the spring of 2012 as he worked with her on college applications and he told her he could no longer help her.

On June 8 of that year in his car during a trip to the Twin Cities he again described his feelings for her. During that conversation he unknowingly pocket dialed his sister on his cell phone and she overheard much of what Scannell said.

WDIO says Scannell testified that he contemplated suicide that night and was soon hospitalized in a psychiatric ward.

After his release Scannell, then 46, began meeting the teen and taking drives with her, during which they would kiss. But he testified that the only other remotely sexual contact came when he accidentally brushed against her breast, WDIO says.

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The Duluth News Tribune reports the young woman, now 19, testified this week that Scannell urged her to have sex with him but she resisted.

The News Tribune notes Scannell had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after he was shot in the Cook County courthouse in December of 2011 by a man he had successfully prosecuted for sex crimes involving a minor. Scannell testified that he rarely worked during his recovery process and was suicidal during that period.

The reports from Duluth say Tamburino did not ask Scannell about whether he'd pressured the teen to have sex with him. A cross examination from special prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger is expected when the trial resumes Thursday.

Minnesota Lawyer reports one of the key points of contention in the trial is whether Scannell was in a position of authority over the 17-year-old. Scannell contends the relationship was not influenced by any position of authority.

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