A bombshell was dropped in the opening day of testimony Tuesday in the trial of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell – he will take the stand and testify in his own defense to address the two felony criminal sexual conduct charges filed against him.
The Duluth News Tribune reports that a jury of 10 men and four women (including two alternates) was selected Monday to decide Scannell's fate. Seven of his family members, including his wife and two sons, were in the courtroom Monday. The trial was moved 110 miles from Grand Marais, where the alleged incident occurred, to a Duluth courtroom.
The charges against Scannell, 48, arise over a physical and romantic relationship he admitted that he had with a 17-year-old girl. Their relationship came to light when the girl's family filed a restraining order in December 2012.
Described as a family friend, coach and mentor to the teen, Scannell had known her for several years, given her guitar lessons and helped her with college plans.
While Scannell is accused of kissing and touching the girl sexually, Northland News Center notes that the case will turn on whether the jury believes that Scannell held a position of authority over her at the time of the incident.
Under Minnesota law, anyone 16 and older can consent to sexual activity. However, if the victim is 16 or 17 and the other party holds a position of authority, the contact is illegal. Defense attorneys will contend that the girl was of age, consented to the acts and was not under Scannell's influence.
This case comes with an interesting twist: Scannell was shot by a man his office had successfully prosecuted for criminal sexual conduct with a 15-year-old girl.
In December of 2011, Scannell was shot in the Cook County Courthouse by defendant Daniel Schlienz, 42, who later died in jail. MPR News reported that Scannell's wife blamed the courthouse shooting for her husband's depression, which led to his contact with the teen girl. In a letter printed in the local newspaper, she wrote that Scannell "...did not exercise good judgment in relying on and becoming too close to [the girl involved]. All of this conduct is an unfortunate result of those emotional issues. Obviously, this behavior is not something he would ever have engaged in before the shooting."
The Cook County Attorney's office told WDIO that Scannell remains on the medical leave that he took in October 2013. He has said that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the courthouse shooting. Scannell's name and face remain on the County Attorney's page of the Cook County website as he completes his second four-year term. He is not seeking reelection.
The trial is being closely watched by a Grand Marais group, Cook County for a new County Attorney, which has staged numerous protests and called for Scannell's ouster and maintains an active Facebook page.
The case is expected to conclude by the end of the week.