|Kerry Max Cook (center)|
A former Texas prisoner who was released in 1999, after serving about 20 years on death row for charges of committing rape and murder of a 21-year-old, was finally cleared Monday.
Officials said that an East Texas state court judge approved of an agreement between prosecutors and attorneys to exonerate Kerry Cook, 60, so that he could overturn the capital murder conviction that accused him of killing Linda Jo Edwards in 1977. He had maintained his innocence for 40 years.
Cook has always been an activist protesting the death penalty and speaking against it across the United States as well as Europe.
He has written Chasing Justice, recording his battle. It had been nominated for the Edgar Award, by Mystery Writers of America. Former FBI Director and Federal Judge William S. Sessions noted: "Kerry Max Cook has written a brutal but compelling account of his 22 years on Texas's death row for a murder he did not commit. The book depicts his struggles against all odds to free himself from an inept justice system that would not let go, despite mounting and eventually overwhelming evidence of his innocence. What is perhaps most amazing is the grace with which he now lives his life as a free man, determined to prevent others from suffering the horrors he endured."
The new evidence proved his innocence and held another man guilty, said a statement from the Innocence Project of Texas, representing Cook.
Though prosecutors have agreed to drop the murder charges, they still continue to oppose his claims of real innocence. On June 27, Cook will appear again in court and clearance from charges would gain him $2 million or more to make up for the traumatic period of imprisonment.
Cook's case got national attention and stirred a lot of questions regarding the death penalty prosecutions in Texas. The state has sent most prisoners to their death, since the U.S. Supreme Court brought up the death penalty again in 1976.
In 1999, there was a "no contest" plea to murder, permitting Cook to be released from prison. It however, did not call for any admission of guilt.
He had been convicted in 1978. However, his case was appealed and retried. But in 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals put down his conviction and death sentence owing to "prosecutorial misconduct."
The 21-year-old bartender had no bad record of violence. It became clear that he lived in exactly the same east Texas apartment complex as Edwards.
It was only later that DNA tests proved him to be innocent.
"It is long past time for the state of Texas to admit that it got the wrong man and that it prosecuted the wrong man repeatedly and sought the death penalty against the wrong man repeatedly," said Kathryn Kase, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates.
It is "shameful," Kase said, that prosecutors continue to challenge Cook's efforts to prove his innocence.
Source: newseveryday.com, June 8, 2016
After nearly 40 years, murder charges dropped against Kerry Max Cook in East Texas case
Cook and his lawyers declined to speak with reporters after the court hearing. But the former death row inmate, who has been fighting for decades to clear his name, celebrated outside the courthouse, sharing hugs with his wife, Sandy, his legal team and a group of Texas exonerees who came to support him.
Cook was convicted in 1978 in the gruesome slaying of Linda Jo Edwards, a 22-year-old who was found beaten, stabbed and mutilated in her apartment bedroom. From the outset, through three trials that courts said were tainted with prosecutor misconduct, 20 years on death row and even since being released in 1999, Cook has maintained his innocence.
His quest to prove it gained worldwide attention. But his saga is not over. Now, at age 60, he can move toward a full exoneration. Prosecutors agreed to drop the murder charges, but they will continue to oppose Cook’s claims of actual innocence, which would allow him to receive compensation for the two decades he spent on death row.
“Under no standard was Kerry treated fairly,” said Marc McPeak, who represented Cook from 2008 to 2013. “I don’t know if there is justice at this point, but hopefully there is peace.”
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham, who declined to comment after the hearing, agreed to drop the murder charges after the latest revelation in the case destroyed one of the few remaining pieces of the state’s case against Cook.
James Mayfield, Edwards’ married lover at the time of her death, admitted in an April deposition that he had lied during previous trials when he said that it had been weeks since he had sex with the young woman. He admitted that he and Edwards had sex the day before she was killed – his birthday.
Mayfield was at the courthouse Monday. He left the courthouse using a walker and declined to speak with reporters.
Mayfield, a former university library dean who worked with Edwards, denied killing her, and prosecutors agreed to give him immunity in exchange for his deposition. But several DNA tests have identified his semen in the panties Edwards wore the night of her death.
In addition, Edwards’ roommate, Paula Rudolph, initially told police that it was Mayfield, a man with medium-length silver hair, whom she saw in their apartment the night of the murder. She changed her story at trial and implicated Cook, though he had longer, dark hair at the time.
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Source: The Dallas Morning News, Brandi Grissom, June 6, 2016