Former East Texan asks for DNA testing to clear his name of a 35 year old murder

Published: Mar. 1, 2012 at 10:02 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2012 at 12:25 AM CST
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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The former Tyler man who walked off death row more than a decade ago is now asking the court to order more forensic DNA testing on evidence that he says could clear his name.

Thirteen years ago Kerry Max Cook walked out of jail a free man, but according to paperwork he filed in Smith County Tuesday, he feels anything but free with the 1977 murder of Linda Jo Edwards on his record.

For 35 years Cook has continued to proclaim his innocence.

According to court documents, Kerry Max Cook's attorneys say, "Because of Smith County's decades-long persecution of an innocent man, Linda Jo Edwards' true killer has never been punished."

In the motion filed by Cook's attorney's, they say the investigation of Edwards' murder "was so badly executed and managed that no confidence can be placed in the work that both led up to and followed Mr. Cook's wrongful conviction."

David Dobbs, who was the Smith County Assistant District Attorney when the case went to trial in the 1990s, says he is interested to know why Cook and his attorneys waited so long to request more testing on the 35-year-old evidence.

"I guess one would have to question why, while he was doing his national book promotion tour over the last twelve years, they didn't ask for this testing before now," says Dobbs.

In the motion for post-conviction DNA testing, Cook's attorneys say DPS lab results showed the DNA on Edward's panties and hair on Edward's body did not match that of Cook's.

They say after Cook entered a plea of no-contest and was released from jail on time served, the man who was having an affair with Edwards, James Mayfield, was ordered to provide his DNA.

Cook's motion says DPS lab results confirmed that the DNA found on the Edwards's panties matched the DNA profile of Mayfield. But, it had been previously determined that the affair between Mayfield and Edwards had ended weeks before her murder.

It's evidence Dobbs says he would expect to find given Edwards and Mayfield's relationship.

"PCR testing had become available, which can get artifacts and remnants from her panties, and there was no question that she was dating the guy who it matched," says Dobbs.

Dobbs says Cook's finger prints on the patio door put Cook at the crime scene.

"We actually could put him in the apartment and that was very important to us because he had been denying it for however many years from 1978 until the mid 90s," says Dobbs, "the evidence that I've seen indicated that he is guilty."

In page after page Cook argues that he was a victim of a sloppy investigation and prosecutorial misconduct. He says, "no confidence can be placed in the work that lead up to and followed a conviction he says is wrong."

Cook's motion also addresses a false testimony made by a Smith County Jail inmate, Edward Scott Jackson. The motion says the Smith County District Attorney's Office withheld from Cook's attorneys a "secret deal" that induced Jackson to falsely testify. It says, "Jackson later admitted that he had lied at Mr. Cook's trial in order to receive the benefit offered by the District Attorney's Office."

The case went to trial three times before Cook accepted the no-contest plea deal. The first time the trial ended in a conviction that was reversed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The second trial ended in a mistrial. The third trial ended in another conviction that was also reversed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Cook's motion states the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote, "Prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset."

Dobbs says he knows Cook did not receive a fair trial in 1978. But, he says they tried to make that right in the 90s. Dobbs says he has his doubts about what's going on now.

"My speculation is that they're hoping that the evidence can't be found so they could then claim, 'had it been here, it would have been proven his innocence,' " says Dobbs.

This week Cook also asked that Judge Jack Skeen, the 241st District Judge of Smith County, be disqualified from hearing his case. That's because Skeen was the Smith County District Attorney prosecuting Cook in the 1990s. Cook also asks that a judge outside of Smith County be appointed to hear his motions.

The 236 pages filed by Cook this week describe in great detail Cook's reasoning behind why he says no confidence can be placed in his arrest, indictment, prosecution or convictions.

While Cook's proven innocence would clear his record, it would also leave the murder of Linda Jo Edwards an open case.

If exonerated, Cook could receive up to $80,000 per year for every year he served in prison.

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