Though Kerry Max Cook's story is told in the acclaimed play, "The Exonerated," he does not meet the Death Penalty Information Center's rigorous standard for exoneration. In advance of his fourth trial for capital murder, after spending 22 years on Texas death row, Kerry Max Cook took his lawyer's advice and entered an Aflord-like 'No Contest" plea to a lesser offense in exchange for time served. As he had done from the beginning, Cook maintained his complete innocence. He was a free man, able to tell the story of his wrongful conviction based on prosecutorial misconduct. He did so in his 2007 book, Chasing Justice.
He's now seeking DNA testing to fully clear his name, and it's causing a dustup in East Texas.
"What the ‘Tyler Morning Telegraph’ Failed to Tell You about Kerry Max Cook," is Michael Hall's post at Texas Monthly. As I always point out, Michael Hall and I are not related.
The Tyler newspaper published a story this morning about Kerry Max Cook and the two motions he filed in a local district court on Tuesday (I wrote about this yesterday). The story was mostly skeptical about Cook’s filings, drawing primarily on one source, one of the men who prosecuted him.
But the paper left a few things out.
Let’s start with the headline of the story, which says “Murderer Wants DNA Testing 35 Years After Conviction.” It’s this very assumption of guilt—calling him a “murderer”—that led Cook to file his motions. The paper is calling Cook a murderer because he did not plead “not guilty” in 1999 and because he has never been officially exonerated. The story doesn’t tell you that on the eve of the fourth time the Smith County DA was going to take Cook to trial, it made him a plea deal—he could walk away if he pled no-contest to the murder, without admitting any guilt whatsoever. Now, if the DA honestly thought Cook was a sadistic rapist and killer, would it really have let him walk away? The modifier “Convicted” would have helped that headline immeasurably.
The most revealing fact that the paper failed to mention? The victim’s underwear had semen on it that didn’t belong to Cook. Unfortunately for him, during the time period the semen was being tested back in February 1999, the DA made the above-mentioned plea deal with Cook, one the prosecutor told him was a final offer before a fourth trial. Cook took the deal because he was terrified of being found guilty again and getting another death sentence, a very real possibility given that it had already happened twice before.
Two months later, the results came back: the semen was not his. It belonged to Edwards’ ex-boyfriend, a married man named James Mayfield, with whom she had been having an affair. The affair had ended badly three weeks before. According to one witness, a professor friend of Edwards who testified at Cook’s third trial and who had visited Edwards the night before her body was found, “she said she was going to date other men, that she had told Jim Mayfield that and he was very upset.” But the Telegraph’s story doesn’t mention the name Mayfield at all—or offer any explanations from the DA’s office on why Mayfield has never been pursued as a suspect in his ex-girlfriend’s murder.
On the Tyler Morning Telegraph website, the report is now titled, "Kerry Max Cook Wants DNA Testing Decades After Conviction, and it's written by Kenneth Dean.
Attorneys for Kerry Max Cook have filed new motions in the decades-old murder case that Cook was sent to death row for in 1994, asking for Judge Jack Skeen Jr. to be recused from the case and for post-conviction forensic DNA testing to be done.
The motions filed this week in the 241st District Court cite “systematic corruption and egregious misconduct” as reasons they are asking for Skeen to be removed from the case and for a judge from outside Smith County to be appointed to hear the motion seeking new testing.
Dallas Morning News Editorial Writer Rodger Jones posts, "Kerry Max Cook -- the kind of mess Watkins was talking about?"
Kerry Max Cook is alive and out of prison today because of the work of two men -- David Hanners, formerly a reporter at this newspaper, and Jim McCloskey of Centurian Ministries, a volunteer gumshoe who investigates cases he thinks involved corrupt or shoddy police work.
These two men come to mind with the news that Cook, who's been off of death row since he copped a plea deal in 1999, has gone back to court in Smith County to try to clear his name in a 1977 mutilation-murder.
Cook wants to subject physical evidence to DNA tests to try to join the ranks of ex-cons who are officially exonerated by the courts.
I would not bet that would happen, since this case is about the most messed-up piece of police and prosecution work that anyone could imagine. Cook was sentenced to die once, in the first of three trials. He was awaiting trial No. 4 when Smith County got a plea out of him through brinksmanship over pending DNA tests.
Three thoughts -- one about DA Craig Watkins, one about Hanners and the third about Cook.