Texas court exonerates man who spent nearly 20 years on death row for 1977 murder

Texas court exonerates man who spent nearly 20 years on death row for 1977 murder

Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph/AP

Kerry Max Cook is pictured at the Smith County Courthouse in Texarkana, Texas in 2016.


After nearly 47 years, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week acquitted Kerry Max Cook of the 1977 murder of Linda Jo Edwards, finding him not guilty of a crime for which he spent nearly 20 years on death row.

“This case is replete with allegations of state misconduct warranting reversal of plaintiff’s conviction,” Judge Bert Richardson wrote in the court’s opinion issued Wednesday, which said evidence favorable to Cook was withheld and some of the evidence presented at his first trial of 1978. was later revealed to be false.

“And when it comes to solid support for actual innocence, this case has it all — undisputed Brady violations, evidence of perjury, admissions of perjury, and new scientific evidence.”

The case spans three trials and several appeals, including to the US Supreme Court.

Cook was accused of raping, killing and mutilating 21-year-old Edwards in 1977 in Tyler, Texas. She was found in her bedroom by her roommate, Paula Rudolph. Cook lived in the same apartment complex as the victim, which made him a suspect. A set of prints on Edwards’ sliding patio door matched Cook.

Scientific analysis and expert testimony disproved the claim that the fingerprints found on the patio door were “fresh.”

Cook was sentenced to death at his first trial in 1979, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal. The second trial in 1992 ended in a mistrial, the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. A third trial in 1994 resulted in a new conviction and a death sentence. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the second verdict in 1996, finding misconduct by police and prosecutors.

In 1999, DNA test results on Edwards’ underwear did not match Cook.

Edward Scott Jackson, an inmate at the Smith County Jail and the star witness at Cook’s first trial, testified that Cook told him he killed Edwards. He later recanted his testimony, saying, “I lied to him to save myself.” Jackson admitted to lying in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Before a fourth trial in 1999, the state offered Cook a “no contest” plea deal to the murder. He was sentenced to 20 years and given credit for time served, leading to his release. However, his conviction remained.

Kerry Cook has maintained his innocence through it all and has now been officially found not guilty of Edwards’ murder.

“Kerry has suffered tremendously for nearly 50 years and nothing can bring her life back,” one of Cook’s lawyers, Glenn Garber of the Exoneration Initiative, said in a statement to CNN.

“The decision finally and forcefully clears his name and, at the same time, chronicles the state’s outrageous and relentless misconduct,” Garber said. “It is important that the people of Tyler, Smith County and the world understand this travesty of justice and see it for what it has been all along – a disturbing witch hunt by state actors.”

CNN has reached out to the office of Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman, who took office in 2019, for comment. The appeals court ruling this week noted that it did not hold current prosecutors “in any way responsible for past events in this case”.

Now 68, Cook is one of at least 199 people who have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death to be exonerated since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment is legal in 27 states.