Innocence Lost

Railroaded onto death row, Kerry Max Cook endures rapes, beatings, and suicide attempts while waiting for justice

Labeled by the media as the "divine detective," McCloskey accepted Cook's case. "It didn't take a good deal of intellectual acuity to figure out who did this," he claims. "It was Jim Mayfield who Paula Rudolph saw, naked from the waist up."

And that's whom McCloskey targeted, interviewing more than 50 individuals -- friends, relatives, and colleagues, who "almost to a person believe that Mayfield...could very well have killed Linda Jo Edwards."

Jim Mayfield had been Linda's boss and lover, hiring her as his periodicals clerk when he was dean of library services at Texas Eastern University (now the University of Texas at Tyler). Their 18-month affair was tumultuous, taking place under the nose of his wife as Mayfield brought Edwards into his home under the guise of helping her through a difficult divorce. (Attempts to contact Mayfield both directly and through his attorney were unsuccessful.)

Houston attorney Paul Nugent handled Cook's defense through two lengthy trials and an appeal -- all pro bono.
Houston attorney Paul Nugent handled Cook's defense through two lengthy trials and an appeal -- all pro bono.
Kerry Cook now lives in Cedar Hill and works as a legal assistant in a Dallas law firm.
Kerry Cook now lives in Cedar Hill and works as a legal assistant in a Dallas law firm.

Mayfield had a fiery temper, says Olene Harned, who was the head of public services at the library. "You never knew what was going to set it off...He was one of the most manipulative individuals I have ever known." He was a domineering husband and a demanding father, and McCloskey learned that no one in Mayfield's family would stand up to him.

Linda Edwards became something of a project for Mayfield: She was like an eager child, half his age, and he took credit for transforming her from a country bumpkin into a lovely young woman. He put her on a diet, helped her lose more than 60 pounds. And the sex between them was intense, adventurous, and risky.

After 23 years of marriage, Mayfield decided to leave his wife, moving into the Embarcadero Apartments with Edwards. Only he missed his home on Lake Palestine, and told Harned that Edwards was too young for him. After four days, he returned to his wife, leaving his girlfriend suicidal. On May 20, 1977 (21 days before her murder), Edwards swallowed a handful of sleeping pills. After convalescing in the hospital for a week, Edwards moved in with Paula Rudolph, who also lived at the Embarcadero and worked at the library. Mayfield would later testify that the suicide attempt brought their affair to the attention of the university, and he and Edwards were both fired.

Mayfield would also testify that his reconciliation with his wife ended all romantic involvement with Edwards, yet that he continued to see Edwards more as a father would a daughter. On the day before the murder, however, he admitted that he "necked" with her while they were alone in her apartment. He also told Harned that he was worried that Edwards might follow him to Houston, where he had taken a new job, and later told another library employee that he was angry with Edwards for ruining his life and destroying his career.

Jim McCloskey believed it was obvious: Mayfield was sexually addicted to the woman, torn between his wife and his seductive girlfriend. On the day of the murder, Edwards and Mayfield saw each other at least four separate times. The final time, according to Mayfield, was at 8 p.m. outside his house. Edwards then went to visit a friend, history professor Andrew Szarka, who would later testify that she told him that she had upset Mayfield because she wanted to date other men. Five hours later, Linda Jo Edwards was dead.

That kind of anger, thought McCloskey, directed at her sexual parts, had all the markings of a jealous lover.

Three days after the murder, a rattled Mayfield asked his friend, Dr. Gary Mears, who ran a polygraph lab on campus, if Mears would help him "beat" a lie detector test. Mears refused, but Mayfield apparently could have used his help. In his 1992 pre-trial deposition, Mayfield testified that he may have taken as many as six polygraphs and admitted, "I didn't pass all of them."

McCloskey reduced his investigative findings to a 22-page memorandum titled "Why Centurion Ministries Believes Jim Mayfield Killed Linda Jo Edwards." His timing couldn't have been better. On September 19, 1991, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a rare moment of vacillation, reversed both itself and the Cook case. Cook had received what he had dreamed of for 13 tortured years: another shot at proving his innocence.

Smith County had to decide whether it wanted to try Cook again: The case had grown old, memories had faded, and witnesses were dead or behind bars. The current district attorney, Jack Skeen, had nothing to do with accusations of misconduct leveled by the Morning News against his predecessor Clark, although the men were cousins. Skeen assigned the case to prosecutor David Dobbs, who seemed eager to work with McCloskey and Hanners in getting at the truth. Dobbs would tell them that his office had no stake in the Cook case -- after all, he was only in high school when Cook was tried the first time. (Dobbs failed to return repeated phone calls by the Observer requesting an interview.)

In the fall of 1991, Dobbs and McCloskey went to the Embarcadero Apartments and re-enacted Paula Rudolph's encounter with the man she assumed was Jim Mayfield on the night of the murder. "Dobbs played Rudolph, and I played the killer," McCloskey recalls. "Afterward, Dobbs told me that he didn't think Rudolph saw Kerry."

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