Friday, July 4, 2008

Mystery Man: Kerry Cook (Part 2 of 4)

For Independence Day, Women in Crime Ink presents a four-part series written by a man who struggled for 22 years to win his freedom. This is Part 2 of his story. Read Part 1 here.

by Kerry Max Cook

So I was charged with capital murder, for the sexual assault and slaying of a woman I'd met once in my life. Although I played no part in her death, the implications of the accusation meant my life was jeopardized. I wasn't a murderer.

But I wasn't an angel either. As a juvenile, I ran away from home a few times, stealing a car or two—usually one to get where I needed to go, and after I ran out of gas, another to get back. One of those cars happened to belong to the sheriff. Definitely the wrong car to steal.

As a result, I wasn’t the most popular person with law enforcement in the small East Texas Town of Jacksonville. Having a police record and a set of fingerprints in the law enforcement database drew attention to me.

At the scene of Linda Edwards' slaying, a policeman found 13 identifiable fingerprints inside the apartment that could have yielded the identity of the killer. “Identifiable” in that each print contained enough points to make a positive identification. But because whoever owned those prints didn’t have a record, police weren’t able to determine the owner. The 13 fingerprints found at the murder scene were destroyed and police and prosecutors settled on me as the suspect.

One of the murder weapons was an orange-handled pair of scissors. On the handle, pressed in blood, the same policeman found a “whorl fingerprint” (left), a type shared by 65% of the people on the planet – including the victim.

But not me.

All ten of my fingers are classified in fingerprint jargon as “tented arches” (right). I don’t have a single whorl digit on any of my ten fingers. Not surprisingly, the policeman dismissed the whorl fingerprint without establishing that person’s identity.

Other evidence was suppressed, bungled, or just plain conveniently lost.

Sworn statements to police, secret grand jury testimony, all told the story of how Linda and I had met out by the pool and I had ended up at her apartment as an invited guest. But the police and the prosecutors hid this critical exculpatory evidence and it wouldn’t be discovered until a new, dedicated defense attorney found it buried in the District Attorney’s files 15 years later.

A drop of blood was found by Linda’s patio door. Maybe it belonged to the killer. You’d think you’d submit it for forensic analysis. But not the police in my trial. They said the reason they didn’t submit if for comparison purposes was because, and this is a direct quote: “It was the same color as the rest of the blood in the apartment.

Then there was the case of the missing ankle stocking. Police and prosecutors contended I had snuck off into the night with one of Linda’s ankle stockings packed full of body parts as a souvenir. But law enforcement never found the stocking.

In Texas, as any other jurisdiction that uses the Death Penalty as a punishment, the crime of murder can be elevated to a capital offense punishable by death if and when the murder occurs during the commission of another felony. In my case one of those underlying felonies the state relied on to make the murder death-penalty worthy was “theft of a stocking.”

Fifteen years later another jury in a separate trial broke open the plastic bag that contained the victim’s blue jeans that had been sealed in a police vault since the first trial. Jurors shook them to determine the victim’s height and out fell the second missing stocking. Apparently it had been shoved up the pant leg of the victim’s jeans.

Evidence at the second trial would show that the prosecution had a win-at-all costs mentality:

  • They coached the only eyewitness to the murder, Paula Rudolph, to change her initial eyewitness account of the murderer to implicate me, and guaranteed her new identification would go unchallenged until an ambush at trial when it was too late by making her unavailable to the defense.

  • The District Attorney conspired with a policeman to fabricate “expert” testimony to make my fingerprint the killer’s calling card.

  • They conspired with the pathologist to change the time the victim died and to create the most inflammatory aspect to the case – missing body parts, carted off in a missing stocking.
  • They deliberately suppressed available evidence that Linda and I had known one another and met three days before she was killed.
  • Finally, they persuaded a convicted murderer to commit perjury in order to guarantee my conviction. Edward “Shyster” Jackson was dubbed the “Star witness for the State.”

Records ultimately proved that prosecutors made him a secret deal: his freedom from a murder conviction and life sentence in exchange for testimony that I confessed to him while sharing a jail cell that I raped and murdered Linda Edwards. Shyster told the jury that the confession story took place in August. Jail records later established that at that time of the purported confession, I was kept in solitary confinement, unable to talk to any other inmates. Those records mysteriously disappeared without explanation.

It was crazy. It was like I was the main character in a John Grisham novel fighting against a corporation that was out to convict me at all costs to escape any appearance of wrongdoing.

After about my fifteenth year on Death Row and days away from execution, Shyster Jackson finally told the truth on an MSNBC Special Report with Geraldo Rivera: “Deadly Justice.”

I was essentially penniless—the $500 my Mom and dad scraped up to hire an attorney just wasn’t enough. I was powerless to counter a parade of perjury, coached testimony, shady agreements, and inflammatory theories.

In a five-day trial I was found guilty of all charges contained in the indictment, despite absolutely no proof to support the allegations of rape, murder, theft of a stocking, or burglary.

One moment I was in the courtroom crying as I reached out to say goodbye to my mama, daddy, and brother, Doyle Wayne, and the next moment I was being given the execution number 600 and pushed into a five-by-nine-foot concrete tomb.


Leah said...

I am not believing this. How do you get all these people to lie and fabricate evidence? They have absolutely no conscience.

Have you received any compensation for the life these SOBs took from you or are you seeking any?? I hope so because you deserve it.

Kathryn Casey said...

Great posts, Kerry. Really amazing. So awful that you endured all of this horror. I can't imagine what it was like.

Paralegal Sandy said...

Kerry - I would imagine that after your experience, if you were not before, that you are definately against the death penalty now....? But there is one thing you wrote that really caught my eye.
"Records ultimately proved that prosecutors made him a secret deal: his freedom from a murder conviction and life sentence". This is one reason why I believe in the death penalty. If people that REALLY murder other people are going to be allowed to go free simply because of a DEAL, then society is put at risk again that this person will prey on another innocent victim. Of course there is always the other side of the story, one like yours where the wrong person is convicted. Maybe with modern technology those mistakes will be less likely.
I work in the law profession but there are many things I don't understand or agree with about the laws. I have heard of cases where some one was responsible for the death of another person, and they get off with less time to serve than some one that is charged with cruelty to animals. Sometimes 2 and 2 just don't add up to 4 in my head. But then I never did get the concept of algebra. Maybe that's what I'm missing.... the variable. Still it just don't seem right.

Happy 4th everybody!America may have it's problems but it's still home sweet home, land that I love.!