An inmate’s harrowing first-person account of a travesty of Texas jurisprudence.
On Aug. 5, 1977, 21-year-old bartender Kerry Cook was arrested in Tyler, Tex., charged with the brutal rape and murder of 21-year-old Linda Jo Edwards. The case against him was circumstantial at best; police had a single fingerprint on the sliding-glass door of Edwards’s apartment, but nothing else to place him at the crime scene and no obvious motive. Everything depended on a jury buying the idea, based on a professional profiler’s testimony, that it was a stranger-on-stranger crime committed by a deranged drifter with a criminal record. Evidence that Cook had actually known the victim was suppressed, and a number of defense witnesses were disallowed over the course of several trials. First convicted in 1978, Cook was raped and sexually abused in prison. He twice attempted suicide; prosecutors in later trials cited this as evidence of his “violent” tendencies. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his initial conviction on technical grounds in 1991. His second trial in 1992 ended in a hung jury. Tried a third time in 1994, he was again convicted and sentenced to death. With the crucial aid of lawyer Paul Nugent, he obtained another reversal in 1996. “Prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset,” stated the TCCA decision, which nonetheless left the door open for Tyler authorities to retry Cook so long as they made no use of the discredited evidence. Facing an unprecedented fourth capital-murder trial in 1999, Cook refused to plead guilty to obtain a release but took the state’s bizarre deal for a no-contest plea that released him on time served. He was not exonerated, even though DNA evidence eventually pointed to another logical suspect.
Intermittent rays of hope and ultimate freedom cast some light on an otherwise dark narrative of decades-long despair.