Man convicted in 1970s Tyler killing seeks to clear name - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Man convicted in 1970s Tyler killing seeks to clear name

Kerry Max Cook (Source: File photo) Kerry Max Cook (Source: File photo)
Kerry Max Cook (Source: KLTV file photo) Kerry Max Cook (Source: KLTV file photo)

Attorneys for a man convicted in the murder of an East Texas woman have filed paperwork to declare their client's innocence.

Kerry Max Cook was convicted in the 1977 killing of Linda Jo Edwards, 21, of Tyler. Though originally sentenced to death, Cook maintained his innocence and a court overturned the verdict, spurring two subsequent trials. The second ended in a mistrial and the third sent him back to death row.

Facing a fourth trial in 1999, with the State again pursuing the death penalty, Cook pleaded no contest and was granted a sentence of time served after spending more than 20 years on death row.

On Tuesday, Cook's lawyers, Cheryl Wattley and Steven Rosen, sought to clear his name based on five different grounds:

  • That he is innocent of the rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards
  • New scientific evidence requires that Cook's conviction be vacated
  • The State suppressed exculpatory evidence it possessed prior to entry of Cook's no-contest plea
  • Cook's due process rights were violated by the State's alleged destruction of exculpatory evidence
  • Cook's due process rights were violated by the presentation of false testimony from James Mayfield

The documents were filed with the 114th Judicial District Court of Smith County.

According to the documents, Edwards lived in the same apartment complex as Cook at the time of her death. Lawyers called the original accusations against him "bizarre and wholly unsupported," saying prosecutors' theory was that "Mr. Cook (who is heterosexual) was a closeted gay man who brutally raped, mutilated and murdered his female neighbor in an act of 'lust' and rage over his own so-called 'sexual ambivalence.' "

Lawyers argue that new post-conviction DNA testing supports Cook's claim of innocence, saying that of the tests conducted on dozens of samples and cuttings from evidence at the scene, none yielded a trace of his DNA.

Instead, lawyers say the tests connected another man, James Mayfield, to the incident. The documents allege DNA tests revealed Mayfield's semen was present on a pair of Edwards' torn underwear. Mayfield was Edwards' married former lover and testified at Cook's original trial.

Cook's attorneys allege that Mayfield "had both motive and opportunity to commit the crime."

The tests conducted were not available at the time of Cook's 1999 no contest plea, Wattley and Rosen say.

"In light of the record as a whole, this new scientific evidence establishes ... that Cook would not have been convicted had it been available at the time of his plea in February 1999," the documents read.

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