Prosecutors lied and cheated to put Kerry Max Cook on death row for 17 years. He's out of prison now, but still not quite free
From The Dallas Observer, July 15 and 21, 1999
For this kind of decision, Kerry Max Cook needed room to pace, but 5 feet was all he would allow himself: 2 steps forward, turn, 2 steps back, turn. The distance was set in his bones. Pacing that same 5-foot span for hours at a time had been his way of staying sane in the barbaric place where he had spent nearly half his life. 5 feet was the width of his cell on death row for more than 17 years.
Although he had received a temporary reprieve from those confines, Cook kept the same pace on February 16 in Bastrop, Texas. He was about to stand trial for capital murder for an unprecedented fourth time. Again the state would be seeking the death penalty. Only this time, something was different.
With the jury ready to be selected, the prosecution was in a bargaining mood. Cook had refused their past overtures, telling them he would never plead guilty even if it meant saving his life. He had suffered too much, believed they had taken everything from him -- his youth, his dignity, his masculinity. All he had left was his claim of innocence; it had kept him alive on death row, and he wasn't about to compromise it now. "I was prepared to die for my innocence," he says.
Cook had been a condemned man since 1978, when a jury first found him guilty of the 1977 mutilation slaying of Linda Jo Edwards, a Tyler secretary. Prosecutors claimed Cook murdered Edwards while in a homosexual rage, bludgeoning her over the head with a statue to subdue her and stabbing her in the back, breasts, and neck with a vegetable knife to finish her off. Then, according to the state, in a moment of macabre perversity, he grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off part of her lower lip, a lock of her hair, and her vagina, shoving the bloody body parts into Edwards' stocking and carting them off as sexual souvenirs.
While Cook waited 8 years for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to hear his case - one of the longest direct appeals in American history - the Smith County District Attorney's Office was accused of lying and cheating its way to a conviction. In 1991, after Cook had spent 13 years on death row, the appellate court reversed the case on constitutional grounds, ruling that his rights were violated when a state psychiatrist did not warn him that their interview could be used against him. But the court didn't consider whether the prosecution was guilty of misconduct.
A 2nd generation of Tyler prosecutors led by chief felony prosecutor David Dobbs refused to let such a gruesome murder go unpunished. Despite several likely suspects, Smith County seemed too proud, too invested in Cook's guilt to back off. But this time, Cook's case had become something of a crusade for Centurion Ministries, an organization dedicated to fighting for the unjustly convicted. Even the conservative Dallas Morning News took up the cause. Investigative reporter David Hanners repeatedly attacked Smith County authorities in headline-grabbing front-page stories, accusing prosecutors of "railroading" Cook by building its case on "circumstantial, prejudicial, questionable, and conveniently altered evidence."
Although the 2nd trial in 1992 resulted in a hung jury, the Smith County district attorney secured a conviction after a 3rd trial in 1994, sending Cook back to death row. The victory, however, was short-lived. In 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again overturned Cook's conviction, this time holding that "prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset." Cook was released on bond, but the district attorney vowed to seek the death penalty a fourth time. "We wouldn't even consider a plea to life," David Dobbs told reporters.
But before jury selection was about to begin, the prosecution made one final offer: If Cook were to plead no contest to a reduced charge of murder, he would never see another day in prison. Judge Robert Jones, no friend of the defense, gave Cook's attorneys 30 minutes to mull it over. Once the trial began, all bets were off.
Cook, along with his lawyers and close supporters, retreated to the Pecan Inn, the Bastrop bed-and-breakfast that had become their war room. "They caved," said his Dallas attorney Cheryl Watley. "It must be the DNA. It's the only reason."
Only days before, the state crime lab in Austin had discovered a semen stain on the panties that Edwards was wearing when she was killed. Was it the murderer's semen? A DNA analysis might reveal that it was. It would be the middle of the trial before the results were known.
But Cook had only minutes to decide his fate, and he began to pace. "I need you guys to help me figure this out," he told those assembled.
Jim McCloskey, the tough, burly minister from Centurion Ministries who had taken on Cook's case nearly a decade before, welled up in tears. "Kerry, I know it's your decision, but I believe this time you'll go free."
"I say fuck 'em," said Steven "Rocket" Rosen, Cook's attorney from Houston. "I say we go to trial. I think we can beat 'em."
Watley was more cautious. "You know, Kerry, a bird in the hand...You'll be free, and it will all be over."
Mikaela Raine, one of Kerry's closest friends, had been mingling among the jury panel, listening to their conversation. "It was awful, Kerry. Some of them say you're guilty. One woman called you a monster."
Cook had heard enough. He walked into the large bathroom off the dining area, needing room to breathe. He had to think harder and faster than ever before in his life. It wasn't death that he feared, it was death row - the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
He knew to what lengths the prosecution was willing to go to convict him. Pleading no contest would be a way to save face. He wouldn't have to admit guilt, even though the judge would find him guilty. His innocence would be compromised, but at least he would be alive.
Cook walked out of the bathroom, and all eyes focused on him. "I'm going to choose life over death," he told them. "I'd rather fight my innocence outside the prison walls as a free man than inside under the death penalty, where no one will believe me."
After the deal was done, a party broke out at the Pecan Inn. Defense attorneys danced with reporters to the sound of Gladys Knight and the Pips, the '70s music that still seemed hip to Cook. Yet he sat alone in a corner, staring out the window and crying. An Associated Press reporter asked him why he wasn't celebrating. "Come, on Kerry -- you can drink a beer now if you want."
"This is not the victory I had envisioned for myself from a 5-by-9 cell," Cook replied. "I am innocent but convicted."
5 months later, the paradox of Cook's decision still haunts him. At 43, Cook acts like a big kid -- playful, good-natured, remarkably curious about life. Only when his innocence is challenged does the intensity that still burns inside him flare up in anger. "The prosecution nailed me to the wall. They sponsored perjury, suppressed evidence, manufactured a case out of whole cloth. It's madness. It's not just out of my head. I lived this nightmare for 22 years, but how am I supposed to tell my story without looking like a liar or like I'm making something up or hiding the truth? Who is going to believe me? Who is going to believe me?"
Kerry Cook is the first to admit that, as a teenager, he was no saint. An Army brat and something of a mama's boy, he spent his early childhood in Europe, living on or near military bases in Belgium, France, and Germany. Despite moving dozens of times and attending some schools for as little as 2 months, Cook remembers those days as the best of his life. Together with his big brother Doyle Wayne, his best friend, they felt accepted wherever they went.
Sundays meant field trips with his father, a career soldier, exploring the Black Forest or the Eiffel Tower. His mother and father were high school sweethearts, and their dream was to return to their hometown of Jacksonville, Texas, someday and open up a family restaurant.
In 1972, the Cooks moved to Fort Hood in Killeen. Ernest "Doyle" Cook retired that summer, and the family moved to Jacksonville, where Kerry enrolled as a sophomore in high school. Jacksonville, located 28 miles south of Tyler, was a small town of 12,000, and Kerry Cook wanted no part of it.
He was used to moving from place to place and resented slowing down -- it didn't help that he was hyperactive. He convinced two friends to steal a car and at least drive to Killeen. It was the last place where things had made sense to him.
But before they got to Fort Hood, they ran out of gas and had to call Cook's parents. Since Cook was only 16, the Jacksonville police didn't know whether to file charges or ground him. Cook must have made that decision easier, because within the next several months, he and his friends stole 3 more cars.
"Cook wasn't your normal red-blooded American kid," recalls Danny Stallings, the former sheriff of Cherokee County, where Jacksonville is located. "He was just real rebellious. He developed quite a reputation for himself."
At 17, Cook was charged with car theft and held in the county jail, his bond set too high for his parents to post. Instead, they spent their money on a lawyer who decided to have Cook evaluated at Rusk State Hospital to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial. "He told me a sympathetic report from Rusk might be a way to avoid prison time," Cook recalls.
In a one-page evaluation dated September 20, 1973, the state hospital's chief clinical psychologist, Dr. Jerry Landrum, declared him fit to stand trial. Landrum found Cook "immature emotionally" - crying for his mother nearly every night. A second psychologist recommended "love and affection and emotional support" as well as counseling.
Instead, Cherokee County Judge J.W. Summers sentenced Cook to two years in the penitentiary, where he was housed in the Ferguson Unit and placed in a cell with a child rapist who Cook claims raped him as well. "He sexually abused me every night and swore he would kill me if I told anybody," Cook recalls. "I wasn't some street thug. I went joyriding. I ran away from home. I was 17."
By April 1974, Cook was paroled and returned to his parents' home in Jacksonville. Cook claims that after he returned, the Jacksonville police harassed him every chance they got, questioning him whenever they had an unsolved crime.
He managed to cobble together a life for himself, working as a stock boy at Discount City, sharing an apartment with a girl named Lydia. Their landlord was an elderly Jacksonville businessman who also owned a hardware store. One month, Cook says, Lydia went to pay the rent, but returned in tears: The landlord had come on to her, hoping to barter their rent money for sex. Cook stormed into the man's store and told him if he ever put his hands on Lydia again, he would regret it.
The next morning, the Jacksonville police broke down Cook's door. He was under arrest for the armed robbery of the landlord. Only the robbery had occurred at noon the day before, and Cook was working that day and had the time cards to prove it. Regardless, he spent several months in the Cherokee County Jail in Rusk before the case was dropped.
On the day of his release, his mother and father came to the jail to bring their boy home. Lydia was there as well, but she had met someone else, and they had married. She told Kerry that their former landlord had kept all their things and was renting out their old unfurnished apartment as furnished.
2 weeks after his release, Cook got drunk, went to the man's store, and broke out a plate-glass window, walking off with several rifles. After his arrest, Cook says, "I told the police I did it. I was relieved to tell them, because this was something that I had actually done."
On April 15, 1976, Cook was convicted of criminal mischief and received 5 years probation, gaining a sympathetic ally in his probation officer, Bobby Townley. Townley believed that Cook had become something of a police magnet in Jacksonville. "He probably was being harassed," Townley recalls. "They probably stopped him every time they saw him." Four other charges had been filed against Cook in Cherokee County, and prosecutors eventually dropped each of them.
Yet Townley still had a job to do, and when Cook fell far behind on his probation fees and restitution, Townley threatened to send him back to prison. Cook grew distraught, and on May 25, 1976, voluntarily committed himself to Rusk State Hospital at Townley's suggestion. Townley even drove him there in his pickup, informing hospital personnel that Cook was under tremendous pressure because of police harassment.
Again, Cook was seen by Dr. Landrum, whose records reflect that he found Cook situationally depressed and listed his primary diagnosis as "inadequate personality (immaturity and impulsiveness)," and a secondary diagnosis as drug abuse and antisocial personality. Yet he believed his prognosis was "good with appropriate psychiatric care."
Cook never received that care. After 4 days at Rusk, he leaped from a window and ran. He traveled to San Francisco, worked in New Orleans, and eventually wound up in Dallas after he learned from his parents that his grandmother was seriously ill at Parkland Hospital.
Meandering around downtown, Cook walked into a popular gay bar, the Old Plantation on North Harwood Street, and struck up a conversation with the bartender, telling his hard-luck tale and gaining sympathy and a couch to sleep on. Cook was young, handsome, and exploring his sexuality. The bartender was gay, and it was the '70s. "I don't know if I was bisexual or just partially bisexual," Cook says. "I had relationships with girls as well as guys."
For the next 6 months, Cook became part of the local gay scene, tending bar at the Old Plantation, renting an apartment in Oak Lawn. But he grew tired of being a fugitive and phoned Bobby Townley, agreeing to surrender himself at his parents' barbecue restaurant in Jacksonville the next day.
Cook boarded a bus for Tyler, and once there, decided to hitchhike the rest of the way home. A truck driver named James Taylor pulled up his rig next to Cook and offered him a ride and a beer. Taylor had divorced his wife and was just beginning to live as a gay man in Tyler. He thought he recognized Cook from the Old Plantation, and when Cook told his story, Taylor convinced him to stay at his apartment for as long as he needed to think things through. Taylor lived in the Embarcadero Apartments, a Tyler complex geared to singles and tennis and sun.
Cook lived off his host for the next two weeks, but Taylor wanted sex in return. Taylor would later testify that Cook was unable to climax with him, taking the more passive role, but Cook says he found the bearded, heavyset Taylor unattractive. "The more he pressured me sexually, the more pressure I felt to turn myself in."
One morning, Taylor drove Cook to his parents' restaurant, where he met Townley, who then escorted him to the Cherokee County jail. In early May 1977, Cook's court-appointed lawyer discovered an error in Cook's original indictment, and his case was thrown out of court. It was a technicality, but Cook wasn't complaining. For the first time since he moved to Jacksonville, there would be no police, no parole, no probation, no prison. "I was 21 years old and free," he says.
James Taylor wrote Cook in jail, telling him that once he got out, there was a place for him in his one-bedroom apartment. Against his brother's advice, Cook moved in with Taylor, using the situation as an all-expenses-paid vacation. Cook whiled away the hours swimming at the pool, soaking up the sun, getting drunk, and fending off Taylor's advances.
Yet Taylor seemed proud of his young houseguest, who wore his wavy brown hair down to his shoulders like a rock star. When he wasn't on the road, Taylor took Cook to parties, showing him off to his gay friends. Robert Hoehn, a Tyler hairdresser who had invited Cook to his house for a barbecue, would later testify that he considered Cook something of a "hustler."
On the afternoon of June 6, 1977, Cook was at the Embarcadero swimming pool. Also there, Cook claims, was Linda Jo Edwards, whom he had seen a few nights before standing naked in front of her bedroom window. Cook couldn't resist taking a few steps toward the window to get a better peek: The woman was strikingly tall, more than 6 feet, and she had dark hair and a gorgeous body, which she was fondling.
Cook says he struck up a conversation at the pool. She seemed like a sweet country girl, bubbly and easy to talk to. She invited him inside her apartment for some iced tea. They went in through the patio door, with her leading the way and Cook sliding the door closed behind him.
Sitting on the living-room sofa together, they began kissing, "getting into the moment," Cook says. "She began panting pretty heavily and started kissing me on the neck. I guess that's when she gave me the passion marks. We realized things were getting out of hand, and both of us put a stop to it. "
Within the next several days, Cook would brag about his exploits to Rodney and Randy Dykes, Taylor's teenage nephews, pointing out the window where he first spied Edwards naked and telling them that she was the same woman who had given him the hickeys on his neck.
Cook told the same thing to Taylor and later to Taylor's friend Robert Hoehn, who reluctantly agreed to come over to the apartment on the night of June 9, 1977. Taylor was out of town and Cook was at the apartment with Alan Tooke, another friend of Taylor's.
When Hoehn arrived at 10:45, Tooke had just left and Cook was watching an R-rated movie on cable, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. The way Cook tells it, he wasn't interested in the film and insisted they drink beer at the pool while waiting for a frozen pizza to cook in the oven. Passing by Linda Jo Edwards' window, Cook tried to convince Hoehn to take a peek, but he refused. After returning to the apartment, Cook says, Hoehn got frisky, but Cook discouraged him. "I really liked him, just not in that way," Cook says.
By midnight, Hoehn wanted to leave, but not before Cook convinced him to drive to the store for cigarettes. Hoehn dropped Cook off at around 12:30 a.m. Cook asked him to come inside, but Hoehn said he had to get up early, and left.
The next morning, Randy Dykes came by the apartment to take Cook to Jacksonville, where he would spend the weekend with his brother. As they left the apartment, they saw a half-dozen squad cars, an ambulance, and several TV news trucks. The place was thick with cops, who had cordoned off an apartment with yellow tape. A reporter told them that some woman was "hurt bad," and Cook thought it might be Edwards' apartment. Only he wasn't about to wait around to find out -- not with his history with the police.
The murder of Linda Jo Edwards shook Tyler down to its fundamentalist roots. The conservative East Texas community considered itself a safe place to raise a family. Its folks were churchgoers, rose growers, country gentlemen who took good care of their Southern belles. Naturally, they were shocked to learn that one of their own had been murdered and mutilated.
Doug Collard, the Tyler police sergeant who investigated the crime scene, said the Edwards murder was one of the most brutal crimes in Smith County history. When he arrived at the Embarcadero Apartments on the morning of June 10, 1977, he found Edwards lying spread-eagled and face-up. She had been stabbed 20 to 30 times in the face, neck, back, breast, and pubic areas. She was nude except for her bra and blouse, which appeared to have been cut and pulled behind her neck. A pair of pink panties at her right foot had been cut open. Blue jeans were crumbled on the floor beside her. She had an ankle-length stocking on her left foot, but none on her right. Part of her right lower lip appeared to be cut off "and was missing from the crime scene," Collard concluded in his report.
Tyler pathologist V.V. Gonzalez arrived at the apartment at 9:30 a.m., examined the body, and had it moved to a funeral home, where he would conduct an autopsy. He could find no evidence of rape, but the repeated stabbing and cutting had so mutilated her vaginal area, he couldn't rule it out. A lock of her hair also was missing. Gonzalez determined that the killer probably grabbed a plaster statue from the front hallway of the apartment and struck Edwards in the head and face with it eight to 10 times. The killer then stabbed her repeatedly with some kind of long-bladed knife and a pair of sewing scissors that were found in her bedroom. The cause of death, he concluded, was "multiple stab wounds and blunt force injuries to the head."
Collard collected nine sets of fingerprints around the apartment, but only one was suspicious. These prints - 4 fingers in a row - were found on the outside patio door frame. Only one of the 4 was clear enough for comparison.
When there are no defensive wounds on the victim, no signs of struggle or a forced entry, the police generally speculate that the victim might have known her attacker. Edwards' roommate, Paula Rudolph, told police that she returned home the night before around 12:30, entered her unlocked apartment, and noticed a "a figure jump from behind the door in Linda's room. I remember the figure had silver hair cut in a medium touching-the-ears fashion that men wear...The body was that of a Caucasian with a tan, wearing white shorts of some fashion... The figure was sleek and slender, and he moved quickly behind the door in Linda's room and closed it...I knew that Linda had been seeing my boss Jim Mayfield. My first impression upon seeing the figure was that it was he, even though I did not see facial features or hear him speak. I called out 'Don't worry, it's only me.'"
Rudolph went straight to her bedroom and within 5 minutes heard the patio doors open and shut.
At 2:30 p.m. that same day, Jim Mayfield showed up at the police station offering to help. Eddie Clark, the detective leading the investigation, interviewed him. Mayfield was the dean of library sciences at Texas Eastern University (which became the University of Texas at Tyler), and said he had first met Edwards when she was hired as his periodicals clerk. He told Clark they developed a "close relationship" in January 1976 when she began having marital problems. Mayfield was also married, but he invited Edwards to live with his family for 6 months. As their relationship grew more intense, he left his wife and 3 children, living with Edwards at the Embarcadero Apartments in May 1977. After a few days, he returned to his wife, and despite Edwards' subsequent suicide attempt, they continued their relationship as friends. He and Edwards had even spent some time together on the day of the murder. But that night, he claimed, he was home, asleep in bed with his wife. His 16-year-old daughter, Luella, was also at home and would confirm his story.
Mayfield agreed to take a police polygraph the following Monday, but by that time he had hired a lawyer who advised the family not to take the exam.
Although the police theorized that any one of the Mayfields could have done this in anger, investigators cleared them of all charges. None of their fingerprints were found at the scene, and the police said they could not disprove their alibis. The police interviewed only a few people at the university, believing the murder had more to do with Edwards' home than with her job.
But Detective Clark was determined to find the killer, his interest in solving the crime more than professional. He had known Linda Jo Edwards growing up; they had gone to school together in the tiny hamlet of Bullard, a few miles outside of Tyler. Clark was also a friend of her family. Under his supervision, police questioned, fingerprinted, and in some cases polygraphed nearly every male living at the Embarcadero - more than 200 men were interrogated in what was touted as the most intensive manhunt in Tyler history.
Dr. Jerry Landrum, who had previously examined Kerry Cook at Rusk State Hospital and was living at the Embarcadero Apartments, offered his services to Clark. Landrum came up with a "psychological profile" of the murderer. The likely suspect, he said, was in all probability a male, 18 to 30 years old, possibly homosexual, possibly impotent, "very introverted," may have been on drugs, and also might be an epileptic.
On August 2, Clark went to the Embarcadero to fingerprint James Taylor, who asked Clark whether he had any idea who might have committed the crime. Clark went through the traits that Landrum had listed, asking Taylor whether he knew anyone who fit that description. Later, Taylor told him that a man by the name of Kerry Cook had lived with him briefly in June - that he was probably homosexual and from his experiences with him, probably impotent. He had family in Jacksonville, Taylor said, and he left Tyler a few days after the murder. Taylor had kicked him out and driven him to Houston.
Upon learning that the Jacksonville police had Cook's fingerprints on file, Clark and Sgt. Collard raced there to make the comparison. Cook looked nothing like the physical description given by Paula Rudolph, but when the fingerprint on the patio door matched Cook's, the Tyler police were convinced they had their man.
On August 5, 1977, Kerry Cook was arrested in Port Arthur, where he had been working as a bartender. Cook recalls he was in shock. "I thought, 'Keep your mouth shut; you can't trust these people. You'll get out of this - it may take a few days.' I didn't realize it was going to take the next 22 years of my life."
For 11 months while awaiting trial, Cook took up residence in the Smith County jail. He was placed in solitary confinement -- a cramped, metal "side cell," they called it. His only light emanated from the small window cut into the door, used by guards to feed him and make certain he was still alive. To occupy his mind, he dredged up memories of Germany and his family, of happier days. To occupy his body, he would do a thousand push-ups and a couple of thousand sit-ups every day. The exercise exhausted him enough to sleep, even though it might be six weeks between showers. The heat in the summer made the place a sweltering box; the cold in the winter was better - it only numbed him to the bone. One time, he says, he complained about his accommodations and was taken to a separate cell and severely beaten by other prisoners. He never complained again.
Cook recalls that when his parents first came to visit him, his father said, "Don't tell them you were inside her apartment." That would hang him for sure. Cook never even told his own lawyers, and never told the police despite their relentless interrogation.
Sometimes, Cook says, the police wanted to know about Robert Hoehn, suggesting he was the real killer: Tell us about Hoehn. He's the one with light hair; he's the one identified at the scene. Maybe you just went along for the ride. But Cook never confessed, said he didn't know anything, said they had the wrong man.
"It got so bad that we had to file a motion to prevent the police from interrogating him in our absence," says Jacksonville lawyer John Ament, who along with LeRue Dixon represented Cook. Among the 44 pre-trial motions Cook's defense team filed were requests that prosecutors turn over any exculpatory evidence along with grand jury testimony. The prosecution claimed they had no evidence in Cook's favor, and the judge denied the defense access to grand jury testimony.
Yet Ament believed there wasn't enough evidence to convict Cook of anything - except maybe of being a Peeping Tom. Paula Rudolph, the state's eyewitness, couldn't even identify Cook. In her police statement, she described a man who bore little resemblance to him. So what hard evidence did the state really have? A single fingerprint found on the outside of the apartment. The defense, misled by their own client, would take the position that Cook had placed his hands on the outside patio door while he was peering inside Edwards' apartment.
What Ament and Dixon didn't bargain for were the depths to which the prosecution was willing to sink to get a conviction. The state would present perjured testimony. It would intimidate witnesses, hide crucial evidence, distort reality, and bury the truth behind a wall of prejudice. The prosecution's constitutional duty is to do justice, not to obtain a conviction at all costs. Evidence favorable to the accused must be disclosed to the defense.
From witness statements and grand jury testimony, the state was told repeatedly that Cook had known Linda Jo Edwards, that she had invited him inside her apartment, that she was responsible for the hickeys that covered his neck. Yet the state hid these highly exculpatory statements from the defense, then proceeded to trial on a completely different theory: Cook was a sexual deviant who stalked his prey by peering at her through an open window. When their theory didn't fit the facts, they changed or omitted those facts to fit their theory.
The fact that this was a big murder in a small town kept the story on the front page; the fact that an unpopular district attorney, A.D. Clark III, was running for re-election made the Cook trial a campaign issue. "On the same news broadcast that Clark announced his candidacy," Ament recalls, "his office announces that Cook had been taken to Dallas to be interviewed by a psychiatrist, James Grigson, to see if he would kill again. Why, he hadn't even been convicted yet. It was just a hatchet job."
The trial was set to begin on June 5, 1978, and several months before, A.D. Clark hired Michael Thompson, who became the lead prosecutor on the case. Thompson was a spellbinding orator, but he was tightly wound and gung-ho to a fault. During one hearing, Ament recalls, Thompson leaned over to the defense table and said, "I'm going to put the needle in your guy."
For a jury to find Cook guilty of capital murder under Texas' new death-penalty statute, Thompson had to prove that the killing occurred while in the course of committing another felony. Since there was no evidence of rape or forced entry, the state also charged that Cook had entered Edwards' apartment with the intent to commit theft. Thompson contended that Cook had stolen the victim's missing ankle stocking after
he stuffed it with her body parts, which he kept as souvenirs. The prosecutor would later tell the jury that he "wouldn't be surprised if [Cook] didn't eat those body parts." This outrageous argument was calculated to inflame the jury, and it did. One of them even vomited at the thought of it.
As grotesque as it sounded, the argument paled in comparison to what the jury saw next: Over the defense's objections, Judge Glenn Phillips permitted Sgt. Collard to present photographs of the crime scene, a common prosecutorial tactic used to illustrate testimony where relevant. Collard was allowed to present a 3 1/2-hour slide show of 66 gruesome, larger-than-life color photographs projected across the wall of the courtroom. The evidentiary overkill worked. "It didn't make a damn what our evidence was at that point," Ament says. "The jury was ready to convict the defendant and his lawyers."
Collard also testified that the prints he had lifted from the outside patio door frame the morning of the murder had been made while the person was standing inside the apartment after closing the door behind him. In his expert opinion, those prints were only 6 to 12 hours old. This branded Cook as the murderer since it put him at the scene at the time of Edwards' death.
Even though Collard had only taken a correspondence course in fingerprint examination, he knew that it was scientifically impossible to date a latent print. Yet he swore repeatedly - in Cook's arrest warrant, at his examining trial, at his bond hearing, and now at trial - that those prints were only 6 to 12 hours old. He would later swear that A.D. Clark made him do it - that it was a "mistake" to offer this kind of opinion but that when he tried to do otherwise, he was met with "full and continued resistance" from the district attorney himself.
The Dykes brothers were up next, first Rodney, then Randy, and each testified that Cook had shown them the window of the woman whom he had watched "playing with herself." Both brothers (as well as James Taylor) had made prior statements to the police that Cook had also told them that the woman had invited him inside her apartment and given him hickeys that they observed on his neck. Despite his duty to disclose these statements, Thompson hid them from the defense and shrewdly avoided asking the Dykes brothers about Cook's encounter with Edwards. This salvaged his theory that the murder was committed stranger on stranger.
Paula Rudolph was the next witness, and like some fine wine, her testimony grew better over time. Despite her police statement within hours of the crime, Rudolph was now unyielding in her belief that the man she witnessed in her apartment in the early-morning hours of June 10, 1977, was Kerry Max Cook. Attempting to explain away the discrepancy regarding the figure's hair color and hair length, she testified that she was no longer certain that she saw the person's hair. "It was extremely bright lighting...It was a reflection, really," and that lighting caused her to mistake dark hair for silver. What's more, she had never identified Jim Mayfield as the man she saw; she only assumed it was him.
Once she was able to objectively remove her "preconceived" idea that it was Mayfield from her mind's eye and recall "the outline, the shape, the silhouette [of that figure against the light]," Cook "fit," she said. It didn't matter that millions of people might have the same shape, or that she was unable to identify facial features during the split second she was face-to-face with that silhouette; she positively identified Cook as the man in her apartment.
A.D. Clark was cunning: His only eyewitness had originally described an entirely different man. So he never showed Rudolph a photo of Cook, never had her pick him out of a lineup. In two preliminary hearings, prosecutors never asked her to identify Cook. On the contrary, she testified at a bond hearing that she wouldn't swear whom she saw on the night of the murder.
At the trial, however, a year after the murder, she had completely adopted the prosecution's point of view.
Although Robert Hoehn was the state's next witness, Cook recalls that during jury selection, Thompson had tried to broker an 11th-hour deal with the defense. "I was handcuffed to a chair in the jury room, and Thompson said, 'The state of Texas is prepared to offer the defendant a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Robert Hoehn.'" Cook never said a word to Thompson; his lawyers refused the deal.
When Hoehn took the witness stand, he seemed nervous, careful to avoid eye contact with Cook. He testified that when he arrived at Taylor's apartment, Cook was watching The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. Although Hoehn had told the grand jury that Cook didn't really pay "a whole lot" of attention to the movie, at trial Hoehn testified they both watched some of its more provocative scenes: when a teenage boy peers into his mother's bedroom and watches her masturbate; when the boy strokes his mother's silk stocking; and when the boy and his friends drug the sailor, and, with knives in hand, close in for the kill.
Hoehn testified that toward the end of the film, while the boys were readying their knives to kill the sailor, he and Cook had sexual relations: first oral sex, then anal sex. Then Cook, aroused by the movie but frustrated by his inability to perform with Hoehn, masturbated on the carpet.
Cook's lawyers were unaware that Hoehn had made a prior statement to the police, admitting that he was homosexual but denying that he had "any relations with Cook." Thompson just kept it to himself. It didn't fit his theory of the case that Cook, enraged by his homosexual frustration and aroused by the movie, worked himself into such a sexual frenzy that not 30 minutes later, he mutilated and murdered Linda Jo Edwards, re-enacting "every last minute of the movie" that he had just witnessed.
Thompson had managed to put homosexuality itself on trial. He repeatedly called Cook a "little pervert" and claimed he belonged to a "demonic cult" of homosexuals. "Let's let all the freaks and perverts of the world...know what we do in a court of justice," Thompson told the jury. "...We take their lives." In this strong Baptist community where homosexuality wasn't just against the law, but a sin against God, this base appeal to prejudice was highly effective.
Edward "Shyster" Jackson, billed as the state's key witness, was next to testify. Jackson was accused of murder himself and awaiting trial in the Smith County jail after shooting a man in a pool-hall fight. He testified that Cook had been transferred into his cell, and that they became friends. One day, he said, they were looking at a Hustler magazine, and Cook exploded when he saw a woman with dark hair. "He would make these comments like, 'I would like to fuck her hard' or 'This bitch needs her ass kicked for posing like that'...If there was a blonde or a red hair...they were fine." Linda Jo Edwards had dark hair, and Jackson testified that Cook told him he stabbed her and "gouged out her vagina," taking "a piece" with him.
Cook remembered Jackson from jail, but told his lawyers he barely spoke to him. How could they be cellmates, when he was sweating out his time in solitary? Ament and Dixon subpoenaed jail records to prove Jackson a liar, but the deputy who was sent to retrieve them reported that they were either missing or lost. When Chief Jailer Gene Carlson was served with a subpoena to offer his explanation, the court was instructed that he had left for vacation in Arkansas that same morning.
Though Jackson testified he had not made any deals with the prosecution, he bragged otherwise to friends in jail. The defense would later call a witness who testified that Jackson had told him that Cook's case was his "ace in the hole." In exchange for his testimony, the state was going to let him plead guilty to time served and reduce his charges to involuntary manslaughter.
Less than two months after Cook's trial, that's exactly what happened. Michael Thompson, who argued to the Cook jury, "I don't make deals with killers," reduced Jackson's charge from murder to manslaughter, and Jackson spent only a few more weeks behind bars. Weeks after his release, Jackson told two Dallas Morning News reporters and a Texas Ranger that his entire testimony against Cook was a "total fabrication" orchestrated by A.D. Clark himself. Jackson said he was shown photographs of the murder and fed information about the crime only the murderer would know.
Dr. V.V. Gonzalez was the state's final witness. He testified that part of the wall of the victim's vaginal canal was not found at the scene. Yet nowhere in his autopsy report did he mention that any body parts were missing. The state also used Gonzalez to shore up another problem: time of death. His autopsy report reflected that when he examined the body at the Embarcadero Apartments, he determined the victim had died 10 to 12 hours before - between 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. But Robert Hoehn, the state's own witness, testified he had been with Cook from 10:45 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. Alan Tooke, the man at Taylor's apartment with Cook before Hoehn, provided Cook an alibi for several hours before that. So at trial, Gonzalez stated that he determined the time of death not at the apartment but during the autopsy two hours later. That meant Edwards had died between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., giving Cook ample opportunity to commit the crime.
Although Cook's attorneys never brought out this discrepancy, in their closing arguments they suggested that it was physically impossible for Cook to have committed the murder. He just didn't have enough time. Somewhere between 12:30 and 12:45, Rudolph had come home and encountered the silver-haired figure, who left within 5 minutes of her arrival. Robert Hoehn had dropped Kerry Cook off at those same apartments at 12:35 a.m. That meant Cook, whom Hoehn had last seen dressed in blue jeans over blue satin gym shorts, had to change into white shorts, work himself up into a sexual frenzy, and beat, stab, and mutilate Edwards in 10 minutes, 15 at the most. Gonzalez had testified that it would take 5 to 10 minutes to do that much damage to the victim's pubic area alone.
Regardless, the jury took only four hours to convict Cook of capital murder. The punishment phase of the trial went even quicker. Dr. James Grigson, known by the nickname Dr. Death because of his frequently damning testimony against capital murder defendants, and Landrum, who had treated Cook at Rusk State Hospital, testified that Cook was a sociopath who would be a continuing threat to society if given the chance. The jury refused to give Cook that chance and sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Cook was outraged by the verdict, convinced he was set up, framed: One witness after another had been either mistaken or flat-out lying, and he was unable to comprehend why anyone would do this to him. How could the police, the prosecution, life itself, have so conspired against him? Following his lawyers' advice, Cook didn't testify in his own defense, but after being sentenced, he refused to remain silent anymore.
"One day I'll prove I didn't do it," he told a reporter. "If it takes me 10 years, 20 years, I'll prove I didn't do it."
Next week: As Kerry Max Cook endures a hellish life on death row, the
prosecution's case against him slowly begins to unravel.
(source: Dallas Observer)
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999
PART 2 of 2-----
When Kerry Max Cook arrived on death row on July 18, 1978, he was given a haircut, doused with disinfectant, tagged with an execution number, and branded a punk, a fag, a bitch, a girl. His reputation as a sexually confused killer who mutilated and murdered a Tyler woman in a homosexual rage had preceded him. The prosecution had argued that he had severed her body parts - a lock of her hair, part of her lip, the wall of her vagina. Then he placed these bloody parts in a stocking she had been wearing and ate them.
It was all Cook could do to push those words out of his head. But when he thought about being on death row for a crime that he says he didn't commit, when he thought about his mother and father and big brother - he cried like a baby.
Showing weakness on death row invited attack. No one, not the inmates, not the guards, has any respect for a punk. A punk is someone who gets raped and doesn't fight back, who gets disrespected and doesn't avenge the insult.
At 22, Cook came to death row with his eyebrows and legs shaven, compliments of some Smith County jail prisoners who had been following his trial. He was taken to Ellis I, a penitentiary unit 15 miles outside of Huntsville and placed in J23, one of the bleak, "supersegregated" cellblocks that houses death row inmates.
Shortly after he arrived, 3 men jumped him in the recreation yard. They stood him up against the wall, and each had his way with him. While two of them held him down, a third took a razor rigged to give inmates tattoos and carved the words "Good Pussy" into his buttocks.
On death row, violence has to be met with violence, but Cook never fought back, figuring he had too much at stake. If he were to face another jury, the prison guards would testify against him: Of course he's a threat to society. Even behind bars he was a vicious animal.
"My innocence was my entire life down there," Cook says.
"I wasn't going to compromise it because somebody raped me."
He figured that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals would see the error of the jury's verdict and that he would be free within a year, maybe two. He didn't realize that the judicial system doesn't like to correct itself, nor did he anticipate how committed Smith County was to seeing him dead. Little did he know that 21 years later, even after he had been freed, he would still be fighting to prove his innocence.
But in 1978, Cook grew hopeful as the first crack in the prosecution's case came earlier than expected.
Edward "Shyster" Jackson, a trusty in the Smith County jail awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge, offered some of the most damning testimony against Kerry Cook in his 1978 trial.
Cook had confessed to him, Jackson testified, when they shared a cell. Cook admitted to him that he had stabbed the dark-haired Linda Jo Edwards, "gouging out her vagina" and "taking a piece" with him. Although Jackson claimed that he had been offered no leniency in exchange for his testimony, and prosecutor Michael Thompson passionately argued to the jury that he didn't make deals with killers, two months after Cook's verdict, Jackson walked out of prison a free man with a deal engineered by Thompson.
Three weeks after his release, in an interview with Dallas Morning News reporters Donnis Baggett and Howard Swindle, Jackson claimed he lied about Cook's confession to save himself. Jackson swore his testimony was a fabrication orchestrated by A.D. Clark III, the Smith County district attorney. Jackson said he was shown photographs of the murder scene and fed information about the crime that only the killer would know.
Clark denied coaching Jackson and said that if a deal was struck, prosecutor Michael Thompson did it without Clark's knowledge. (Clark declined to be interviewed for this story.) Regrettably, Thompson couldn't defend himself. He had committed suicide before the article was published, putting a gun to his head on the same day he had been interrogated by federal officials for allegedly taking bribes on drug cases.
Yet nothing resulted from the disclosure that Cook's conviction was based, in part, on fabricated testimony. Cook's appellate attorney, Harry Heard of Longview, included Jackson's recantation in the record, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seemed in no hurry to rule.
On death row, Cook decided that he had placed too much trust in lawyers and began to educate himself in the law. Death row inmates were allowed only two law books a week, and Cook would sit at his $25 Royal typewriter, typing out each word of a decision that might bear some relevance to his case. Since he couldn't afford carbon paper, he would retype the same document as many as 10 times, sending it out to anyone willing to listen.
It saddened him when he finally got a copy of his court record and read what they said about him: Cook being driven into a sexual frenzy after watching a cat-mutilation scene in a movie that he says he never saw. Cook being positively identified by a woman who got the length and color of his hair and the style of his clothes wrong.
Every scrap of paper, every document, every letter from a lawyer, a court clerk, a reporter, became part of Cook's "bible."
Working on his case kept him sane on death row - when his cellmate was sexually abusing him, when someone pulled a knife on him, when the guards humiliated him by ordering him to remove his "panties."
On February 13, 1980, Harry Heard argued Cook's case before the appeals court in Austin, attacking the conviction by raising 20 legal points of error. Chief among them was Heard's contention that testimony by prosecution psychiatrist Dr. James Grigson, who branded Cook a sociopath beyond all hope of rehabilitation, should never have been admitted because Grigson had not warned Cook that their interview could be used against him.
Why the appeals court took eight years to decide - longer than any other capital case in the nation - is still a mystery, but on December 9, 1987, it affirmed Cook's conviction by an 8-1 vote.
The decision devastated Cook. Heard withdrew as his counsel. His parents had stopped visiting him, and he began to lose hope. "I was surrounded by insanity," Cook says.
Three weeks after the ruling, Cook was brought into the chaplain's office and handed the phone. It was his father. "He's gone, son. Your brother was killed last night." Cook dropped the phone - Doyle Wayne had been his best friend, his biggest supporter. Now he was dead, slain outside a pool hall.
Cook refused to leave his cell, didn't eat or sleep. He couldn't stop crying and left himself open to attack. One day the guards forced him to shower, and another inmate jumped him, raping him repeatedly. Cook returned to his cell, found a razor among his things, and slit his throat.
The suicide attempt resulted in Cook's removal from death row and placement in the psychiatric ward at the Ellis II unit. Here, instead of violence and abuse, he received treatment, working with prison therapists to battle what had become his worst enemy: despair.
In February 1988, Cook was given fresh hope when Scott Howe, a University of Texas law professor with the Texas Death Penalty Resource Center, agreed to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. That same month, David Hanners, a tenacious Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with the Morning News, requested an interview with him, vowing to take a hard look at his case.
"Cook was very intense and nervous," Hanners recalls. "But there didn't seem to be a lot of artifice to him."
Cook, however, admits he lied to Hanners. "I told him I had never been inside Linda Jo Edwards' apartment - that's what my attorneys argued in 1978."
The only physical evidence linking Cook to the apartment was his fingerprints, and Cook told Hanners that he had placed his fingers on her patio door when he was peering into her apartment, trying to catch a glimpse of Edwards nude. And that's how Hanners explained Cook's fingerprints to his readers in a front-page story headlined: "Inmate was Railroaded, Inquiry Suggests."
What Hanners didn't yet know was that grand jurors were told that Cook had been inside Edwards' apartment three days before the murder. Three witnesses testified Cook had told them that he had met Edwards at the swimming pool and that the two had gone to her apartment and necked. Despite its duty to disclose this exculpatory evidence, the prosecution concealed it from Cook's lawyers and then went to trial on the theory that this was a stranger-on-stranger murder.
Nevertheless, Hanners' story ripped apart the state's case witness by witness:
A Tyler police Sgt. Doug Collard had testified that the fingerprints he discovered on the door were 6 to 12 hours old, effectively placing Cook at the scene at the time of the murder. Yet FBI experts interviewed by Hanners said that from examination alone, it is scientifically impossible to age a latent print down to an hour or even a day.
A Eyewitness Paula Rudolph, Edwards' roommate, told the police that the man she thought she saw in her apartment was Jim Mayfield, her boss at Texas Eastern University, describing his hair as silver and just long enough to touch his ears. At the trial a year later, she positively identified Cook, saying the bright lights in the bedroom must have made his dark brown hair reflect silver. Cook also had shoulder-length hair.
Robert Hoehn, a Tyler hairdresser who had been with Cook for the two
hours before the murder, provided the state's theory of motive.
Prosecutors contended that, in the company of Hoehn, Cook was sexually excited by a provocative movie, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, which depicted a scene where a cat was mutilated; Cook, frustrated by not being able to perform sexually with Hoehn, was driven into a homicidal frenzy when not 30 minutes later, he reenacted the movie by mutilating Edwards. However, a close examination of the trial transcript revealed that Cook appeared normal when Hoehn later dropped him off outside the apartments and that neither Hoehn nor Cook watched the cat-mutilation scene. Of course, that didn't stop prosecutors from forcefully arguing to the jury that Cook had been driven into a sexual frenzy after watching the entire movie.
The story concluded that the state's case "consisted largely of circumstantial, prejudicial, questionable, and conveniently altered evidence." But Hanners was just getting started. Tyler police and prosecutors told him that they always suspected that Hoehn was also involved in the murder; his short, blonde hair fit Rudolph's description more than Cook's did. Hanners tracked Hoehn to Dallas, where he learned that the hairdresser had died of AIDS in 1987. But Hanners interviewed Richard Engle, who had been at Hoehn's deathbed at Parkland Hospital. Engle said Hoehn told him that the "wrong man" was sent to death row and that Cook was "never, ever guilty." Although Hoehn never admitted his own involvement, he indicated he knew more about the crime than he testified to at trial.
Hanners wasn't too popular in Tyler, but police and prosecutors tried to convince him that the real Kerry Max Cook was a street hustler who grew violent when drunk and killed for the erotic pleasure of it. Former District Attorney Clark, who was defeated for re-election in 1978, claimed that no matter what Hanners had discovered, Cook was guilty. Why, he had even confessed to Clark "off the record" during the '78 trial.
Cook and his trial attorney John Ament are both adamant: At no time did Cook confess.
Hanners continued to hammer away at Smith County in print, writing more than 40 articles that left readers with the impression that the wrong man had been condemned to die. But the Court of Criminal Appeals didn't seem to be reading the Morning News. It permitted Smith County Judge Joe Tunnell to set Cook's execution date, July 8, 1988, and for the first time, Cook had to consider the possibility that he might die before proving his innocence.
When he first arrived on death row, capital punishment wasn't even a reality for Cook. The Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but the nation was still debating the issue. No one had been executed in the state since 1964.
Cook was scheduled to be the 26th person executed in Texas after the reinstitution of the death penalty. Only 11 days away from his "date," the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay. Then, in October 1988, the high court reversed his case and ordered the Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider whether Cook's rights had been violated by the Grigson interview.
But on January 17, 1990, the Texas appellate court again affirmed Cook's conviction. Although Cook grew distraught, the Morning News articles had helped him win over many converts to his cause. His prison therapists at Ellis II kept him off death row for two years. Cook was even placed in a cell with a non-death row inmate, David Franklin Hunter.
Hunter was serving a 149-year sentence for a number of armed robberies. He told Cook about his girlfriend, JoAnne Ticer, who was active in a Huntsville prison ministry called Standing in the Gap. Hunter encouraged him to put her on his visitors list: Cook was lonely, she was compassionate, and they fell in love.
On July 4, 1990, Ticer and Cook married. His father, who would die of cancer the following year, served as his proxy in their church in Jacksonville. A month later, Ticer came to Cook and told him she was pregnant with another man's child and needed a divorce. At the same time, prison officials had grown concerned about leaving Cook in the general population and sent him back to death row.
Within days of his return, Cook was strip-searched by guards who were unaware of the tattoo carved into his buttocks. He pleaded with them not to make him expose it in front of the other inmates, but the weaker he sounded, the tougher they got. "Take your panties off, Cindy. Bend over and grab 'em."
Humiliated, Cook says, he returned to his cell, and a trusty passed him a note: "Tomorrow bitch, you are going to have a taste of this in the dayroom." He had drawn the shape of a penis and ejaculated onto the note.
Cook wanted out. In his cell, he swallowed a dozen cold pills. He had been told for 13 years that he wasn't a man, just a pussy who shouldn't even have a penis. So he grabbed a razor, cut his arms, his legs, and his throat and shouted, "I can't have a dick! Here, you have it!" Then he sliced off his penis and threw it at the cell door.
Blood was spurting from his neck and groin, and he began to grow faint. But before passing out, he dipped his finger in a pool of blood and wrote on the wall: "I really was an innocent man. Goodbye Mama, Daddy and JoAnne. I am sorry I could not fight it anymore. Take me home, Kerry Max Cook, Lord."
Cook came within a life's breath of cheating the executioner. Prison guards rushed him to the hospital. His penis was reattached, his life was saved, and guards captured the whole gory mess on videotape, documenting the suicide attempt for the record.
David Hanners was pissed: How could Cook try to take his life when he was working so hard to save it? Hanners had contacted Centurion Ministries to see whether it might be interested in helping Cook. The nonprofit organization, run by a rough-and-tumble minister from New Jersey named Jim McCloskey, had an amazing track record investigating the cases of those convicted but innocent. In Texas alone, McCloskey had helped free Joyce Ann Brown, a Dallas woman serving a life sentence for robbery and murder, and Clarence Brandley, an East Texas janitor wrongfully accused of murdering a schoolgirl who was freed after spending 10 years on death row.
Labeled by the media as the "divine detective," McCloskey accepted Cook's case. "It didn't take a good deal of intellectual acuity to figure out who did this," he claims. "It was Jim Mayfield who Paula Rudolph saw, naked from the waist up."
And that's whom McCloskey targeted, interviewing more than 50 individuals - friends, relatives, and colleagues, who "almost to a person believe that Mayfield... could very well have killed Linda Jo Edwards."
Jim Mayfield had been Linda's boss and lover, hiring her as his periodicals clerk when he was dean of library services at Texas Eastern University (now the University of Texas at Tyler). Their 18-month affair was tumultuous, taking place under the nose of his wife as Mayfield brought Edwards into his home under the guise of helping her through a difficult divorce. (Attempts to contact Mayfield both directly and through his attorney were unsuccessful.)
Mayfield had a fiery temper, says Olene Harned, who was the head of public services at the library. "You never knew what was going to set it off...He was one of the most manipulative individuals I have ever known." He was a domineering husband and a demanding father, and McCloskey learned that no one in Mayfield's family would stand up to him.
Linda Edwards became something of a project for Mayfield: She was like an eager child, half his age, and he took credit for transforming her from a country bumpkin into a lovely young woman. He put her on a diet, helped her lose more than 60 pounds. And the sex between them was intense, adventurous, and risky.
After 23 years of marriage, Mayfield decided to leave his wife, moving into the Embarcadero Apartments with Edwards. Only he missed his home on Lake Palestine, and told Harned that Edwards was too young for him. After four days, he returned to his wife, leaving his girlfriend suicidal. On May 20, 1977 (21 days before her murder), Edwards swallowed a handful of sleeping pills. After convalescing in the hospital for a week, Edwards moved in with Paula Rudolph, who also lived at the Embarcadero and worked at the library. Mayfield would later testify that the suicide attempt brought their affair to the attention of the university, and he and Edwards were both fired.
Mayfield would also testify that his reconciliation with his wife ended all romantic involvement with Edwards, yet that he continued to see Edwards more as a father would a daughter. On the day before the murder, however, he admitted that he "necked" with her while they were alone in her apartment. He also told Harned that he was worried that Edwards might follow him to Houston, where he had taken a new job, and later told another library employee that he was angry with Edwards for ruining his life and destroying his career.
Jim McCloskey believed it was obvious: Mayfield was sexually addicted to the woman, torn between his wife and his seductive girlfriend. On the day of the murder, Edwards and Mayfield saw each other at least four separate times. The final time, according to Mayfield, was at 8 p.m. outside his house. Edwards then went to visit a friend, history professor Andrew Szarka, who would later testify that she told him that she had upset Mayfield because she wanted to date other men. Five hours later, Linda Jo Edwards was dead.
That kind of anger, thought McCloskey, directed at her sexual parts, had all the markings of a jealous lover.
Three days after the murder, a rattled Mayfield asked his friend, Dr. Gary Mears, who ran a polygraph lab on campus, if Mears would help him "beat" a lie detector test. Mears refused, but Mayfield apparently could have used his help. In his 1992 pre-trial deposition, Mayfield testified that he may have taken as many as six polygraphs and admitted, "I didn't pass all of them."
McCloskey reduced his investigative findings to a 22-page memorandum titled "Why Centurion Ministries Believes Jim Mayfield Killed Linda Jo Edwards." His timing couldn't have been better. On September 19, 1991, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a rare moment of vacillation, reversed both itself and the Cook case. Cook had received what he had dreamed of for 13 tortured years: another shot at proving his innocence.
Smith County had to decide whether it wanted to try Cook again: The case had grown old, memories had faded, and witnesses were dead or behind bars. The current district attorney, Jack Skeen, had nothing to do with accusations of misconduct leveled by the Morning News against his predecessor Clark, although the men were cousins. Skeen assigned the case to prosecutor David Dobbs, who seemed eager to work with McCloskey and Hanners in getting at the truth. Dobbs would tell them that his office had no stake in the Cook case - after all, he was only in high school when Cook was tried the first time. (Dobbs failed to return repeated phone calls by the Observer requesting an interview.)
In the fall of 1991, Dobbs and McCloskey went to the Embarcadero Apartments and re-enacted Paula Rudolph's encounter with the man she assumed was Jim Mayfield on the night of the murder. "Dobbs played Rudolph, and I played the killer," McCloskey recalls. "Afterward, Dobbs told me that he didn't think Rudolph saw Kerry."
McCloskey believed he could convince Dobbs that Mayfield was the killer, and he gave him a copy of his investigative report. Within two weeks, McCloskey says, Dobbs shared the report with Mayfield himself. "David Dobbs betrayed me," McCloskey claims. "He was just gathering ammunition to rebut what we had learned and prepare for trial."
Apparently McCloskey had misread how invested the prosecution was in keeping Cook on death row. To them, Cook wasn't just some anonymous inmate whose case was reversed on a technicality. He was a vicious celebrity criminal who had attacked the integrity of Smith County justice. With the help of a big-city newspaper, he had made the people of Tyler look foolish.
Centurion convinced Houston attorney Paul Nugent to represent Cook for free. Boston-born, Nugent possessed a New England reserve and a bearing not dissimilar to a Kennedy. After clerking for a federal judge in Galveston, he moved to Houston to join the firm of renowned criminal attorney Percy Foreman.
Nugent maintains that he has "never encountered a district attorney's office as dishonorable as Smith County's." In the late fall of '91, Nugent and Dobbs were sifting through a box of documents when Nugent noticed a thick memo written by Sgt. Doug Collard to a fingerprint certification board. A grievance had been filed against Collard by another examiner after the Morning News had questioned how the officer could date a latent fingerprint down to the hour. Collard responded that he knew there was no scientific validity to his opinion and that it was "a mistake" to express it. But district attorney Clark had pressured him to testify that way and the sergeant, now a captain, apparently lacked the will to resist. The whole episode sank to the level of flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.
Dobbs also gave Nugent grand jury testimony and witness statements - exculpatory evidence that had been denied Cook's first attorneys. Four witnesses - Hoehn, James Taylor, and Taylor's nephews, Randy and Rodney Dykes - had testified before the grand jury that Cook had told them days before the murder that he had met Edwards at the swimming pool and she had given him the hickeys that they each saw on his neck. (James Taylor was unaware of Cook's claim that he had entered Edwards' apartment.) This ran counter to the state's theory in the '78 trial that this was a stranger-on-stranger murder. It was a theory the state would be loath to give up.
On March 4, 1992, Judge Joe Tunnell, who would preside over the case, ordered Cook back to the Smith County jail. Cook had decided to leave his radio and typewriter behind, hopeful that he would never see death row again. Those hopes were quickly dashed when David Dobbs greeted him in the jail.
Cook says he told Dobbs he didn't want to speak with him, terrified that he was just trying to get him to confess. "Dobbs said he was working with McCloskey," Cook recalls, "and was willing to listen to any evidence of my innocence." Cook became hysterical, telling Dobbs that his predecessor, A.D. Clark, had made him out to be a homosexual, and look where that got him. Cook then dropped his pants, he says, and showed Dobbs the tattoo etched into his buttocks.
Dobbs would tell a different story, claiming he warned Cook not to speak with him unless his attorney was present. Yet Dobbs knew that Cook was represented by counsel, and Judge Tunnell would later rebuke Dobbs for his "improper" and "misguided"..."breach of duty and protocol" by speaking to a defendant without his attorney being present.
In jail, Cook was allowed one phone call and contacted David Hanners. The Morning News would recount the jailhouse confrontation in a story that questioned the ethics of the prosecutor. Two months later, Smith County announced it would retry Cook.
Tunnell was a cantankerous jurist who ran his courtroom with a heavy gavel. On his own motion, he changed the venue of the case from Tyler to Georgetown, a town noted for its law-and-order juries. When the trial began in October 1992, the state once again portrayed Cook as a sadistic voyeur who didn't know his victim and cut off her body parts before stuffing them in a stocking as sexual souvenirs. Tunnell aided them in that portrayal. He permitted the Dykes brothers to testify that Cook said he had seen the victim naked while he was peering into her window. But he excluded Cook's statement that he had been an invited guest inside Edwards' apartment, ruling it was hearsay and leaving the defense with no plausible explanation as to how Cook's fingerprints got on Edwards' patio door.
If Dobbs had wanted payback against Hanners, he certainly got it when he called Cook's most ardent defender as a witness for the prosecution. Hanners reluctantly testified that Cook had told him during their death row interview that he didn't know Edwards, once again corroborating the state's stranger-on-stranger theory.
Tunnell refused to allow the defense to present any evidence of police or prosecutorial misconduct from the '78 trial. The jury would never learn that Smith County prosecutors had presented what defense attorneys claimed was perjured testimony, had suppressed highly exculpatory evidence, or had insisted a fingerprint examiner give an opinion that was a scientific impossibility.
The jury would hear, however, from Robert Wickham, a reserve Smith County sheriff's deputy, who testified that while he was escorting Cook from the jail to jury selection in 1978, Cook asked him, "Do you think I killed her?... Well, I killed her, and I don't give a shit what they do to me." Yet for 14 years, Wickham never felt compelled to bring this confession to the attention of prosecutors because it would be "his word against mine," Wickham testified.
"You're a liar!" Cook shouted in open court. "This is unbelievable."
After calming his client, Nugent brought out that Wickham had never transported a prisoner either before or after Cook, and painted him as a wannabe cop who was lying to grab attention. There were no employment records to show he even worked that day. And what law enforcement officer wouldn't leap at the chance of nailing a capital murder suspect who had just confessed?
With Robert Hoehn dead, Cook's lawyers couldn't cross-examine him about his original statement to the police (suppressed by Clark) that he and Cook had never had sexual relations. The state was permitted to introduce a transcript of his '78 testimony, deleting prejudicial references to Hoehn and Cook having anal and oral sex while watching a movie - though Hoehn's testimony that Cook had masturbated on the carpet during the movie remained. And despite Hoehn telling the grand jury that Cook had paid little attention to the movie, Tunnell allowed the jury to view the entire film.
Nevertheless, Nugent and his co-counsel, Chris Flood, hammered away at the state's case, scoring points against the Tyler police for its shoddy investigation: Why were the Mayfields dismissed as suspects so easily? Why hadn't the police found the knife at the scene? Why hadn't the victim's panties been tested for DNA?
Jim Mayfield testified as expected: He had been home with his wife and daughter on the night of the murder; he hadn't been romantically involved with Linda Jo Edwards for three weeks prior to her death. But Mayfield seemed cold and unmoved by the tragedy, Cook recalls.
The defense even had its way with pathologist Dr. V.V. Gonzalez, who admitted that his original autopsy report about Edwards said nothing about missing body parts. At first he testified that they had been cut out, but then confessed that nothing was actually missing and that extensive stabbing and cutting had destroyed the lip and vagina. Dallas pathologist Dr. Linda Norton, one of the 12 defense witnesses, testified that she had serious doubts any body parts were missing. "This wasn't a souvenir crime," she said recently. "Her vaginal wounds were associated with a love relationship gone bad."
In closing arguments, prosecutors took the same position as their predecessors had 14 years earlier: Cook murdered Edwards in a homicidal frenzy, severing her body parts after being aroused by a cat-mutilation scene in a movie. Cook then stuffed these bloody body parts into Edwards' stocking, which he then stole. That's why the stocking was missing from the scene.
When the jury retired to deliberate its verdict, it asked to review some of the exhibits: documents, photos, the clothing of the deceased. Five hours later, they sent out a note: "We found the stocking."
For a brief moment, Cook believed he had certain proof that the prosecution's case was bogus: There was no missing stocking, no sexual souvenirs, no stranger-on-stranger thrill kill. Just a shoddy police investigation. When a juror was examining Edwards' blue jeans, he reached up into a pants leg and pulled out the "missing" stocking. Five days later, after voting six to six, the jurors declared themselves hopelessly deadlocked.
If there had been some plausible explanation as to how Cook's fingerprints got on the door, jurors told Cook's lawyers, they would have acquitted him. But Tunnell had barred that testimony as hearsay, challenging Cook to take the witness stand and explain the fingerprints himself. But that was a risk his lawyers were unwilling to take.
Prosecutors immediately vowed to try Cook a third time, and he was returned to the Smith County jail. For the next 11 months, Cook was placed in solitary confinement, afraid that if he spoke to a prisoner or guard, he might be facing another jailhouse confession. "Look what they had done with Shyster Jackson, then A.D. Clark in the press, then Robert Wickham," Cook says. Before the second trial, the prosecution had even impaneled a grand jury to gather new evidence. Their lead witness was David Franklin Hunter, who certainly had a vendetta against Cook for marrying his girlfriend. Franklin told grand jurors that when they were cellmates, Cook confessed to him as well, said he had even eaten the victim's body parts. He would later recant his testimony, Cook says, and never testified at trial.
The third trial was set to begin in January 1994, again in Georgetown, only this time without Judge Tunnell, who had retired. Instead, visiting Judge Robert Jones, an unpopular district judge who had been defeated for re-election in Travis County, was assigned the case. He immediately adopted all of Tunnell's rulings from the '92 trial - all evidence of prosecutorial misconduct would be banned; all testimony that Cook was an invited guest in Linda Jo Edwards' apartment would be disallowed unless it came from Cook himself. The '92 trial seemed as if it were a dress rehearsal for the '94 premier: The state's witnesses were more prepared this time, more committed to Cook's guilt than ever.
In '92, Jim Mayfield came across as heartless and cold, distancing himself from his affair as if it were some meaningless tryst. In front of the '94 jury, he cried -- huge crocodile tears. At 60, he also seemed frail and grandfatherly, Nugent recalls, not the robust lover who would kill out of jealous rage.
As in the '92 trial, the defense developed the theory that Mayfield's daughter Louella also had a strong motive to murder Edwards, though Louella would deny killing her. But she testified that after she learned about her father's affair, Louella felt betrayed by her friend Linda and threatened to kill her. Police records labeled Louella a pathological liar and mentally unstable. Oddly enough, Tyler police reports further revealed that after Edwards' suicide attempt, Louella was seen dressed in a police uniform at the Embarcadero Apartments, asking residents if they knew anything about "a homicide" involving Linda Jo Edwards and James Mayfield.
Once again, eyewitness Paula Rudolph was unflappable. As in '92, she refined her '78 testimony that bright lights had caused her to "assume" that she had seen Jim Mayfield rather than Cook. A "halo effect" from two 100-watt bulbs must have made Cook's dark brown hair look silver and must have cut his shoulder-length hair right at the ears.
Although the '92 trial forced the state to abandon its missing-stocking theory, David Dobbs still maintained that Cook had severed his victim's body parts. This theory enabled FBI psychological profiler David Gomez to testify that the murder was not a "domestic homicide" committed by a lover in a jealous rage, but rather a "lust murder" committed by a stranger who severed body parts as trophies and who was motivated to kill out of some kind of "sexual ambivalence." Gomez defined a person who was sexually ambivalent as someone who did not know if they were heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual (i.e., Cook).
To counter Gomez's testimony, the defense turned to one of the foremost authorities on criminal profiling in the world, Robert Ressler, the man who co-authored the book upon which Gomez had based his expertise.
Ressler believed the murder was a domestic homicide - a killing between two people who were sexually intimate. His analysis of the crime scene indicated that extreme rage was directed toward the vaginal region, which would indicate an "intent on the part of the killer to destroy the area of previous sexual interest." Ressler would later say he had never heard of a case where sexual ambivalence was offered as a motive for murder. "It was just something Gomez made up."
Ressler's testimony could have been riveting -- if Judge Jones would have allowed it. Before he took the witness stand, Ressler had reviewed a transcript of what Gomez had told jurors days earlier, and Jones held that Ressler had violated the rule that forbids witnesses from hearing one another's testimony. Although expert witnesses are often exempt from the rule, Judge Jones said he felt "manipulated." Robert Ressler would not testify, Jones said, even though he might be committing an error that was grounds for reversing the case.
The importance of that ruling was quickly felt: After 4 days of deadlocked deliberations, the jury sent out a note requesting that it be read portions of Gomez's testimony. Within hours the deadlock was broken, and Cook was found guilty of capital murder.
The punishment phase of the trial started the next day, and Jones permitted the prosecution to play the videotape of Cook's 1991 death row suicide attempt - 45 minutes of graphic bloodletting when Cook could no longer bear the barbarism of death row. David Dobbs had a more sinister spin: He argued this was no suicide attempt, but an act of violence that Cook directed at himself for lack of other victims.
On March 3, 1994, Cook was sentenced to death for the second time in 16 years.
Nugent wanted Cook to remain silent, but Cook, standing before the bench, couldn't help himself. "With respect to the jury, with respect to the judge, with respect to the Edwards family, I am an innocent man. And Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Cook had convinced himself that he was never coming back to death row. Yet here he was, confronting the same guards who had berated him, the same inmates who had raped him. Nothing had changed, not even his execution number.
Battling depression, Cook began to work with Paul Nugent on his appellate brief. "It had to be a seminal document," Cook says. "It had to tell the Court of Criminal Appeals the whole history of this case." After 18 months of research and writing, Nugent filed his brief: 213 pages, 55 points of error, claiming the Smith County district attorney had engaged in egregious misconduct spanning 15 years, which had denied Cook a fair trial. But Cook had no faith in the system. He didn't think the court would have the courage to reverse his case again.
And he prepared to die.
He began to study scripture in earnest; he made contact with a Dallas woman, Mikaela Raine, who was interested in ministering to prisoners. She would eventually agree to be his spiritual advisor, standing by him in those final moments as he entered the death chamber. "When they execute me," he told her, "I want your face to be the last I see."
Cook's god had always been his innocence: He worshiped all the well-organized binders that filled the many shelves of his cramped cell. Every piece of paper, every legal document was sacred; bending even one was a sacrilege.
One morning around 3 o'clock, Cook says, he couldn't sleep. He got down on his knees and began to pray, crying out loud and begging for answers. "God, why me? My brother was murdered. My father died of cancer. I'm all alone. Why won't you let me die? I've tried to kill myself four times, but you won't let me go. Is it the anger for the man who murdered my brother? Is that why you're keeping me from your Grace? I forgive the man who murdered my brother. I swear to God I forgive him...Is it my anger toward the prosecution, Lord, is that what's doing it? OK, I forgive the prosecutors. I'm not angry or vindictive. I forgive them, God. I forgive..."
That day, he gathered up the papers that meant life to him on death row - his journals, witness affidavits, photos, legal correspondence - and he dropped them in the trash can outside his cell.
Two weeks later, on November 6, 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction. Again.
Although the appeals court ruled that "police and prosecutorial misconduct" had "tainted this matter from the outset," it refused to ban Smith County from retrying Cook again. The court did, however, prohibit the further use of Robert Hoehn's '78 testimony. The loss of his testimony would put the state at a disadvantage, but on October 6, 1997, Smith County prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Cook for an unprecedented fourth time. "We wouldn't even consider a plea to life," David Dobbs told reporters.
A month later, after two decades behind bars, Cook posted $100,000 bond - the first ever set in the case - and was released from the Smith County jail pending trial. "There are no words to articulate what it felt like walking out of jail a free man," Cook says. Paul Nugent was there, and Jim McCloskey put up the bail money. David Dobbs watched from a distance.
But prison had "institutionalized" Cook, made him dependent on others.
He had been unable to make a move, eat a meal, go to the bathroom, without first asking permission from a guard. Now he was confronted with an unfamiliar world of limitless choices, a louder, faster world of computers and cell phones and automated teller machines.
He didn't trust living in Jacksonville with his mother - it was too close to Tyler - and when Mikaela Raine and her family offered him a room in their Dallas home, he jumped at the chance. He hated being alone, disliked crowds, and often slept on the floor. He was playful with her children, and in many ways, he was still a little boy himself.
Centurion Ministries realized Cook would need therapy, and he began seeing Dr. Ryche Marshall, formerly the chief clinical psychologist at Terrell State Hospital. "Kerry was the most traumatized person I've ever seen in my life," she says. "But he was no sociopath like the prosecution said; he was just the opposite - gentle, vulnerable, empathetic."
After six months with the Raine family, Cook began feeling more independent. He got an apartment and a car, found a job as a legal assistant with a Dallas law firm. He began dating Sandra Pressey, an environmental consultant whom he met at an Amnesty International meeting.
And he began taking in strays. "I got myself in all kinds of weird situations," Cook says. Whether they were a DWI client from work, a homeless man on the street, or a topless dancer who had somehow gotten a hold of his business card, he offered to help them with their problems. "It reached a point where I felt I needed to be his bodyguard," Pressey says. "He got a letter from a death row inmate who said he was going to make up a confession story if Kerry didn't do what he wanted."
This trial would be different from the others. Centurion Ministries had received a $500,000 contribution from an anonymous Wall Street investor - the defense would be able to match the state dollar for dollar in trial preparation. McCloskey had hired the best experts in the world - fingerprint experts, pathologists - he even found a lighting expert who would refute Paula Rudolph's "halo" theory.
As the trial date approached, Cook decided to switch lawyers. Paul Nugent seemed tired. The case needed a fresh perspective. Even Jim McCloskey agreed. Through his job, Cook became friends with Dallas criminal attorney Cheryl Watley. She became his sounding board, his confidante, his lawyer.
Watley wanted to change the calculus of the case, believing that the only way Judge Jones would let the defense tell its story was if Cook himself took the witness stand. Let him tell about meeting Linda Jo Edwards, let him explain how his fingerprints got on the patio door. That would solve any hearsay problems with the Dykes brothers, but it would open Cook up to David Dobbs' cross-examination. If Cook were still on death row, he'd be unable to stand up to authority. But "over a year of being a free man gave me my balls back," Cook says. There were risks, of course: Cook had a criminal history, had lied to the media, had mutilated himself - all this would have to be explained.
Judge Jones moved the case to Bastrop, Texas. Centurion had hired Colorado jury consultant Neil Hirshorn, who, after reviewing the responses of the jury panel to the questionnaire he had prepared, decided the jury was too old, too conservative, too aligned with law enforcement to be trusted. "This jury scares me," he told Cook on the eve of trial. "They don't have the backbone to put the system on trial."
Despite their public statements that Smith County wanted Cook back on death row, prosecutors seemed interested in making a deal. Would Cook plead guilty to a 40-year sentence? Would he plead guilty to his time served in prison? "Kerry's essence was his innocence," Watley says. "He was willing to die rather than admit he was guilty." He instructed Watley to refuse all offers.
On February 5, 1999, only 11 days before trial, Watley received a phone call from Dobbs. The state had submitted the victim's panties found beside her leg to the DPS crime lab in Austin for DNA testing. Amazingly, a semen stain was found after all these years. Now Dobbs wanted blood samples from Cook, as well as Jim Mayfield, whose attorney said he would cooperate immediately. Dobbs would ask Parkland Hospital for a blood sample from Robert Hoehn. He also wanted a continuance. But Jones insisted the parties begin jury selection while the tests were being completed.
On February 16, only 30 minutes before jury selection, the prosecution made its final offer. If Cook would plead "no contest" to a reduced charge of murder, he could walk out of the courtroom a free man. There would be no fingerprinting, no checking in and out of prison, no admission of guilt. The judge would find him guilty of murder, but not because of any confession from Cook.
After Cook huddled with his lawyers, friends, and supporters, Watley finally told him outright: "Kerry, we want you to come home. Put an end to this nightmare today."
Reluctantly, Cook accepted the prosecution's offer.
But that didn't stop Cook. Even as a free man, he was driven to prove his innocence, and he hung his hopes on the DNA test results. Semen stains found at the scene of a crime seemed like fairly damning evidence - only the prosecution appeared in no hurry to release the results. Apparently Mayfield wasn't quite as cooperative as his attorney first indicated, Cook says. He didn't provide a blood sample until a month after Cook's plea. Only after Cook went to the media did the prosecution finally reveal that the recovered DNA matched Mayfield.
Although the state had argued in its motion for continuance how important the test was to both the state and the defense, David Dobbs now dismissed the results as irrelevant. He claimed that the semen stain might even survive if the panties had been washed, which suggested that intercourse might have occurred long before the murder. (One serologist contacted by the Observer said that the chance of a testable amount of semen surviving washing would be "close to impossible.")
"Why was Smith County trying to undermine this?" Cook asks. At a minimum, the results destroyed Jim Mayfield's credibility. He had testified repeatedly that he had not had sex with Edwards since before her suicide attempt, three weeks prior to the murder. Now there was evidence showing he might have had sex with her within hours of her death.
Dobbs told reporters that as far as he was concerned, the case was closed.
But for Cook there can be no closure. He lives somewhere in the gray between guilt and innocence, acquittal and conviction. Some nights he can't sleep, hearing the jury's verdict in his head. Other nights he regrets compromising himself, making a deal for less than "complete and total exoneration." Wherever he goes, he has to explain himself: at every job he applies for, in every media interview he grants, to every friend he takes into his confidence. And no matter how convincing he sounds, no matter how clearly he makes a case that prosecutors lied and cheated to keep him on death row for 17 years, he knows that some people will always doubt him. Some people will always wonder, "Yeah, but what if he really did do it?" And it's at those moments that Kerry Cook believes there are some fates worse than death.