Courthouse shooting suspect dies in custody

Daniel Schlienz booking photo
This booking photo shows Daniel Schlienz, 42, of Grand Marais, who is suspected of shooting three men in the county courthouse on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. Schlienz was reported dead in his jail cell on Tuesday morning.
Photo courtesy Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Daniel Schlienz, the man who was accused of shooting a prosecutor and witness in the Cook County courthouse in Grand Marais earlier this month, died Tuesday morning at Essentia St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.

Schlienz, 42, on Monday "showed signs of medical distress," according to the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office. Jail staff called 911 just before 8 p.m. Schlienz was transferred to the hospital from the St. Louis County Jail sometime after 8 p.m. Monday evening, according to Kolleen Kennedy, an investigator at the St. Louis County medical examiner's office in Duluth.

Kennedy said Schlienz died at the hospital Tuesday at 7:56 a.m. Family members were present with him.

An autopsy conducted Tuesday afternoon did not pinpoint the exact cause of Schlienz's death.

St. Louis County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Tom Uncini, ruled the cause and manner of death as "undetermined," pending additional lab tests which could take several weeks to complete.

No foul play is suspected and the investigation is pointing towards a physiological or medical condition, not a traumatic cause of death.

Investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension have been involved in this investigation and are assisting the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and Medical Examiner's Office.

There also is no evidence that Schlienz killed himself, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that Schlienz was "not being treated differently than anyone else." She said that as a matter of policy, any deaths that occur in custody are automatically autopsied.

Schlienz had just been on trial in Grand Marais, accused of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, for which he was found guilty. There was speculation that Schlienz was sick during the trial, but his attorney John Lillie says his client did not appear ill.

"He was fine during the trial, he didn't complain of anything," Lillie said. "I didn't observe anything, there was no accommodation made during the trial in any way, shape, or form. So if he had some form of illness it was not known to me."

Soon after the verdict in his criminal sexual conduct trial, Schlienz shot Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell and Greg Thompson, a witness in his trial. Both are recovering from their wounds.

Schlienz was charged last week with two felony counts of premeditated first-degree attempted murder, and had been held in the St. Louis County jail on $2 million bail since Dec. 16, the day after the courthouse shooting.

Schlienz allegedly told investigators he planned to get revenge on Scannell if he was found guilty, and did not have a plan for escape when he entered the courthouse with his semi-automatic pistol. Instead he had thought of killing himself, or having a cop shoot him.

Schlienz's father, Gary Schlienz, and Cook County Prosecutor Scannell could not be reached for comment. Thompson's family declined an interview, as did Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk. Falk has previously said that Grand Marais is a strong community and will recover. Lillie said Schlienz's sudden death could make recovery difficult.

"You didn't have a chance to flush this thing out or have any closure, or have him have any opportunity to have some insight and make an apology for what he did," Lillie said. "It's shocking in that respect."

Lillie was at the courthouse during the shooting and is credited with helping to save Scannell's life. Lillie doubts Schlienz's death gives the victims of the shooting any closure. He says his former client's family has had a hard time coping with what happened.

"That poor family, the mom and dad already had enough heartbreak," Lillie said. "This almost makes it worse to a certain extent."

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