A Smith County, Texas judge has formally dismissed the murder conviction against Kerry Max Cook, who has maintained for nearly 40 years that he was wrongfully convicted of killing 21-year-old Linda Jo Edwards in 1977.The victim was beaten, stabbed and mutilated.
According to KHOU, since the conviction, Cook’s attorneys have conducted six rounds of DNA testing which failed to not only identify Cook as the killer, but also failed to prove he was even at the scene of the crime.
Cook has been free on bond since 1999, after the guilty verdict and death sentence delivered during his third trial was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Cook spent 20+ years on Texas’s death row, and since leaving prison, he’s lived with the possibility that Smith County authorities would send him back.
Cook has fought his legal battle for nearly 40 years. His original 1978 conviction and death sentenced was overturned on a technicality in 1991; his second trial in 1992 resulted in a mistrial; at his third trial in 1994, Cook was convicted and sentenced to die for the second time, but that decision was overturned in 1996. In 1999, just days before his fourth trial was to start, prosecutors offered Cook an unusual “no contest” plea agreement which held him still legally convicted for the murder, but allowed him to walk free. Cook has been fighting for his full exoneration ever since.
In court on Monday, Cook’s attorneys argued that his rights were violated and false testimony was allowed during all three of his trials. The AP reports that DNA found in Linda Jo Edwards’ underwear belonged to three people, including a man named James Mayfield, her boss and former (married) lover. In April, when Mayfield was questioned and deposed again, he admitted to having sex with Edwards the day before her murder, which happened to be his birthday, the report notes. Mayfield had previously claimed that they had broken up three weeks before Edwards was killed, so this newfound information equals false testimony in the eyes of the court. Mayfield was given immunity for this new testimony. Cook’s attorneys also argued that prosecutors suppressed a taped interview with a manager at the victim’s apartment complex, which amounts to misconduct.
While the charges against Cook have now been tossed out and his conviction has been set aside, he has not been fully exonerated and declared innocent in the eyes of the law. Cook currently resides in New Jersey and has vowed to continue to seek full exoneration, reports add, and could be eligible for a few million dollars in compensation for his wrongful conviction. Cook is due back in court on June 29, where his attorneys will argue his “actual innocence,” and any decision rendered will then need to be approved by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Since his release, Kerry Max Cook has penned a book about his experience and has become a vocal advocate for the wrongfully convicted.