A man who served more than 20 years in prison for the killing of an East Texas
woman and who took a plea deal to avoid a 4th murder trial has called for new
DNA testing that he believes will prove his innocence.
Kerry Max Cook was twice sentenced to death for the 1977 rape and killing of
21-year-old Linda Jo Edwards, of Tyler. Courts overturned both convictions. In
1999, Cook agreed to plead no contest to murder in Edwards' death in exchange
for a sentence of time served, which allowed him to go free. A no contest plea
is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for the purposes of
Cook has become a speaker and author on the topic of wrongful convictions. His
attorneys filed a motion this week in Smith County District Court calling for
new testing on forensic evidence in the case, contending that state authorities
possess "a substantial volume of additional untested evidence that will further
corroborate Mr. Cook's innocence."
Smith County district attorney Matt Bingham said he was unfamiliar with much of
the case but would not oppose the motion. He said he would look into whether
any untested evidence remains in storage.
"If items exist that can be tested that shed some light on the case, I plan on
having them tested," Bingham said.
Cook also filed a motion calling on District Judge Jack Skeen, who prosecuted
the case, to recuse himself. Skeen could not be reached, but Bingham said any
criminal cases from when Skeen was district attorney typically go to another
Cook was tried 3 times for Edwards' murder and nearly a 4th before he agreed to
the plea deal. His 1st conviction, a year after Edwards' death, was vacated by
the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2nd trial ended with a hung jury. Cook was convicted
a 3rd time in 1994, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the
conviction because prosecutors read the testimony of a witness at the 1st trial
who had died.
Weeks after the plea, prosecutors said semen found on Edwards' underpants
matched James Mayfield, who was Edwards' boyfriend. A Smith County grand jury
closed its inquiry into the slaying shortly thereafter without charging
Mayfield or anyone else.
Marc McPeak, an attorney for Cook, said in a statement that DNA testing laws
have changed since the no-contest plea.
"The belief is that there is additional evidence that may contain DNA that is
not Mr. Cook's and which will further demonstrate his innocence," McPeak said
in the statement.
David Dobbs, another prosecutor during the 3rd trial who is now a defense
attorney in Tyler, said prosecutors committed "serious misconduct" during the
1st trial that hindered future efforts to convict Cook. He said Cook was
entitled to test any available evidence, though he still believes Cook was
"If there's anything that can be tested, and it can be located at this late a
date, then certainly it should be tested," Dobbs said.
New DNA testing could help exonerate Cook. If he's formally declared innocent,
Cook could seek $80,000 for each year that he was incarcerated under the
state's compensation law for wrongfully convicted inmates.
(source: Associated Press)