by Kerry Max Cook
Part of any job, whatever you do, is dealing with “bad days.” The worst day of my life started at the end of the day. It was about 6 o’clock one night, when a co-worker walked up and said, “Kerry, can you come in here for a second?” I stepped into an adjoining room, which was strangely dark. Suddenly, the room exploded in light. Handcuffs were slammed down on my wrists. I was arrested for the rape and murder of a woman whose name I didn’t recognize. Then things got really bad.
The officers drove me to a police station where I was ordered to remove all of my clothing in front of a young female dispatcher. Nude, I was pulled down a hallway and pushed into a restroom. As the door closed, a volley of punches rained down, slamming me to the floor. Dragging me by my hair into a stall where my head was pushed into a toilet bowl, a police officer screamed "Confess!"
Next I was put on a private plane in the middle of the night and flown to Tyler, Texas. At about 3000 feet up, a detective threatened: Admit to being a rapist and murderer, or be pushed out of a plane.
Twelve hours later, I sat naked in a freezing jail cell on a cold slab of steel, with a new job: to free myself.
At the time, I didn’t know I had 8030 more days to go in this new occupation: it would be 22 years before I’d be able to walk down the street a free man again.
And I didn’t know that meant that I would have to change myself into a completely different human being.
I needed to make sure I didn’t die by lethal injection—or get killed by a psychotic prison inmate before the justice system realized they’d made a terrible mistake. And if I screwed up—if I failed to change—I’d be dead.
Failure was not an option. You hear that all the time in corporate America, where the worst-case scenario means you’re fired. But in my case, if I failed, I would be executed. If I was going to have any hope of succeeding, I would have to become a whole new person.
Like many of the best and worst stories in life, this one began with romance. Her name was Linda Edwards. She was 21 and I was 20 when I met her by the swimming pool at an apartment complex in Tyler, Texas, where we both lived.
We talked, we flirted, and Linda invited me to her apartment. We made out, she left a few passion marks on my neck, and we said goodbye. That was it: the first time—and the last time—I ever saw her.
Two months later, I was arrested for her rape and murder.
For the next year, I sat in a solitary confinement cell, awaiting trial—a year in which the police and prosecutors added to my story, by making up one of their own. It took me 22 years to prove they completely fabricated their case against me.
In the police report, the victim’s roommate Paula Rudolph, the only eyewitness to the crime, stated that the man she saw in Linda’s bedroom at the time of her murder was the victim’s silver-haired, married, 45-year-old ex-boyfriend, James Mayfield. Paula knew what he looked like. She worked directly for James Mayfield at the local university.
The district attorney’s office had this photograph in their possession at the time of my indictment, but kept it hidden for 15 years, when a defense investigator discovered it.
Immediately after my arrest, the District Attorney placed Paula Rudolph under the “protective custody of the Tyler Police Department” and made it impossible for my attorneys to question her. Research shows that a witness’s best recollection is moments or hours after witnessing a crime, not a year later.
A local psychologist with no forensic experience was told that I once worked as a bartender in a gay bar in Dallas. He worked that into a profile and labeled me as a maniacal, homosexual killer and a misogynist.
The pathologist changed his original estimate of the official time of death, adjusting it to match the exact time the policeman swore my fingerprint was left on the victim’s patio door, making it the “killer’s calling card.”
Everything hinged on this policeman’s "aging" of my fingerprint. But there is no way to scientifically determine the age of a fingerprint. The technology didn't exist in 1977, and it doesn't exist today. Still, his claim was the only piece of evidence to support an arrest warrant based on “probable cause.” Later, he restated it under oath to indict me on capital murder charges and bind me over for trial.
Kerry Max Cook is the author of CHASING JUSTICE: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn't Commit. The story of Kerry’s struggle continues here tomorrow.