Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mystery Man:Kerry Max Cook (Part 4 of 4)

For Independence Day, Women in Crime Ink presents a four-part series written by Kerry Max Cook, a man who struggled for twenty-two years to regain his freedom. This is the fourth installment. Read Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 .

by Kerry Max Cook

After I’d lost everything that mattered to me most in the world my freedom, my self-respect, the person I loved the most, I came face to face with the fragility of humankind. And I dedicated my life to forgiveness: of myself, of those I had wronged, and those who had wronged me. I began living the truth that hate only hurts the person who is doing the hating.

In my heart I built a shrine that represented the love I had for Doyle Wayne and I promised him–and myself–that I wouldn’t give up, no matter what.

In defiance of my lawyers, I resumed a media campaign to the press. My lawyers had strenuously advised me against this, saying the press would distort my story and use it against me.

But I had nothing to lose now.

I’d been in prison for over ten years now, with no progress. I’d seen what happens when you let other people control your destiny. It was time I controlled my own, completely.

I wrote to
David Hanners, a reporter at the Dallas Morning News. I told him that if he found anything untrue about my story, I would voluntarily walk into the execution chamber to be executed.

My persistence with David Hanners and the Dallas Morning News produced a gigantic break by bringing me and my story out of the darkness and into the light with the headline “Inmate Was Railroaded" splashed across the front pages.

For the next two years I worked exclusively with David Hanners, and this alliance produced over 40 front-page stories, such as “Convicted Man Called Innocent,” “Key Evidence in Cook Case said to be False" (the aging of the fingerprint) and many, many more.

This helped save my life.

My second break came when I persuaded Jim McCloskey (left) of Centurion Ministries to take on my case.

Centurion is a New Jersey-based, non-profit organization that investigates an inmate’s claim of innocence, and if they find evidence to support the inmate’s claims, they hire an attorney and go into the field to collect the hidden or undeveloped evidence.

I had written Jim McCloskey before, but had only been sent a form letter.

Armed with the Dallas Morning News’ front-page investigative stories, I stuffed an envelope full and again wrote Jim McCloskey.

This time, Jim McCloskey wrote back:

“Before I commit to any case, I require an honest, detailed account of your life and a detailed description of your conviction. An innocent man named Matt Connor once wrote us 60 pages. I know that is a lot, and that was an extraordinary case. I look forward to reading your story.”

All during the day, and well into the night I worked on my response. Finally, I wrote:

“Dear Mr. McCloskey: Enclosed please find my 61-page autobiography. I am one page more innocent than Matt Connor was.”

Jim McCloskey took my case. He hired a Houston attorney named Paul Nugent (on left with Kerry and attorney Scott Howe to his right) and for ten grueling years, it was a David and Goliath-like fight, but we prevailed as a united front.

Paul, Jim, and the Dallas Morning News literally saved my life.

So . . . who DID rape and murder Linda Jo Edwards? Twenty-two years lter, a law-enforcement crime lab discovered semen on a long overlooked piece of evidence and tested it in an effort to answer that question.

The DNA belonged to none other than the original suspect–Linda’s married ex-lover, James Mayfield.

But police and prosecutors had so corrupted their case against him in their blind pursuit of me for over two decades, it made it impossible to legally charge him–even in the face of his genetic fingerprints at the crime scene.

Those who prosecuted me were politicians first. They never admitted their mistake. The truth in this case was never as important as their careers. And their careers blossomed.

District Attorney Jack Skeen was nominated “Prosecutor of the Year” by the Texas State Bar, which is made up of county and district attorneys. Jack Skeen is now a District Judge overseeing justice in Tyler, Texas.

Doug Collard, the policeman who started it all by aging my fingerprint and making it the killer’s calling card? Years later, Collard told a fingerprint licensing board—in addressing a complaint filed against him by a fellow member, after the Dallas Morning News publicized his perjury regarding the "aging" of my fingerprint—he shouldn’t be held responsible for his perjury because the District Attorney’s Office made him do it. He finished out his career with honors and retired a few years ago.

It’s worth noting that Detective Collard’s Response to the Complaint filed against him was deliberately hidden while prosecutors fought up the appellate ladder to have me executed.

District Attorney Jack Skeen argued all the way up to the United States Supreme Court that the guilt of the accused was beyond any doubt because Doug Collard testified that the my fingerprint could only have been left on the patio door of the victim at the time she was raped and murdered, making it the “killer’s calling card.”

I did finally get an apology but it didn’t come from the police or the prosecutors–even in the face of DNA exoneration. Ironically it came from the only person involved in my case that had the courage to admit he really was a criminal: Shyster Jackson.

The most significant lesson I learned serving 22 years of a wrongful conviction is the power of forgiveness. The ability to forgive gave me the power to be free.

I was imprisoned on the worst death row in America and now I was free. Death row might have had my body, but it didn’t have my mind. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. “

I never let go of mine.


Anonymous said...

That is a ver moving story Kerry. I can't wait to read your book.

Vanessa Leggett said...

Kerry, thank you for sharing your story. And congrats on winning the fight for your life.

Anonymous said...

I waited until I finished reading all four pieces to comment. This is an extremely well written eye opening piece.
I don't know if you have read the other posts, but I am a supporter of the DP. It is stories like this that make me rethink my position.
I cannot know your struggle, but it amazes me that you have managed to find forgiveness and a sense of purpose in this life.
Here in Dallas County they have quite a few exonerations due to similar issues. This politically motivated crap hurts everyone. Like You who lost so much of your life and society who was under a false assumption that they were safe when the real killer was still walking around.

Those men should be tried. It wouldn't give you back your life, but it would definately make others think twice about doing the wrong thing just to put a closed stamp on a case.

Anonymous said...

Kerry's story is truly amazing. His story was depicted in the Off Broadway play, the Exonerated. The problem with the death penalty is this: What if someone makes a mistake or rushes to judgment and a person condemned to death is exonerated 15- 20 years after a trial and after the execution.

Kathryn Casey said...

Great series of posts, Kerry. Really fascinating and frightening. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. And congratulations on winning your freedom! Your story and others like it need to be told!