Innocence Lost

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

In '92, Jim Mayfield came across as heartless and cold, distancing himself from his affair as if it were some meaningless tryst. In front of the '94 jury, he cried -- huge crocodile tears. At 60, he also seemed frail and grandfatherly, Nugent recalls, not the robust lover who would kill out of jealous rage.

As in the '92 trial, the defense developed the theory that Mayfield's daughter Louella also had a strong motive to murder Edwards, though Louella would deny killing her. But she testified that after she learned about her father's affair, Louella felt betrayed by her friend Linda and threatened to kill her. Police records labeled Louella a pathological liar and mentally unstable. Oddly enough, Tyler police reports further revealed that after Edwards' suicide attempt, Louella was seen dressed in a police uniform at the Embarcadero Apartments, asking residents if they knew anything about "a homicide" involving Linda Jo Edwards and James Mayfield.

Once again, eyewitness Paula Rudolph was unflappable. As in '92, she refined her '78 testimony that bright lights had caused her to "assume" that she had seen Jim Mayfield rather than Cook. A "halo effect" from two 100-watt bulbs must have made Cook's dark brown hair look silver and must have cut his shoulder-length hair right at the ears.

Although the '92 trial forced the state to abandon its missing-stocking theory, David Dobbs still maintained that Cook had severed his victim's body parts. This theory enabled FBI psychological profiler David Gomez to testify that the murder was not a "domestic homicide" committed by a lover in a jealous rage, but rather a "lust murder" committed by a stranger who severed body parts as trophies and who was motivated to kill out of some kind of "sexual ambivalence." Gomez defined a person who was sexually ambivalent as someone who did not know if they were heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual (i.e., Cook).

To counter Gomez's testimony, the defense turned to one of the foremost authorities on criminal profiling in the world, Robert Ressler, the man who co-authored the book upon which Gomez had based his expertise.

Ressler believed the murder was a domestic homicide -- a killing between two people who were sexually intimate. His analysis of the crime scene indicated that extreme rage was directed toward the vaginal region, which would indicate an "intent on the part of the killer to destroy the area of previous sexual interest." Ressler would later say he had never heard of a case where sexual ambivalence was offered as a motive for murder. "It was just something Gomez made up."

Ressler's testimony could have been riveting -- if Judge Jones would have allowed it. Before he took the witness stand, Ressler had reviewed a transcript of what Gomez had told jurors days earlier, and Jones held that Ressler had violated the rule that forbids witnesses from hearing one another's testimony. Although expert witnesses are often exempt from the rule, Judge Jones said he felt "manipulated." Robert Ressler would not testify, Jones said, even though he might be committing an error that was grounds for reversing the case.

The importance of that ruling was quickly felt: After four days of deadlocked deliberations, the jury sent out a note requesting that it be read portions of Gomez's testimony. Within hours the deadlock was broken, and Cook was found guilty of capital murder.

The punishment phase of the trial started the next day, and Jones permitted the prosecution to play the videotape of Cook's 1991 death row suicide attempt -- 45 minutes of graphic bloodletting when Cook could no longer bear the barbarism of death row. David Dobbs had a more sinister spin: He argued this was no suicide attempt, but an act of violence that Cook directed at himself for lack of other victims.

On March 3, 1994, Cook was sentenced to death for the second time in 16 years.

Nugent wanted Cook to remain silent, but Cook, standing before the bench, couldn't help himself. "With respect to the jury, with respect to the judge, with respect to the Edwards family, I am an innocent man. And Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do."


Cook had convinced himself that he was never coming back to death row. Yet here he was, confronting the same guards who had berated him, the same inmates who had raped him. Nothing had changed, not even his execution number.

Battling depression, Cook began to work with Paul Nugent on his appellate brief. "It had to be a seminal document," Cook says. "It had to tell the Court of Criminal Appeals the whole history of this case." After 18 months of research and writing, Nugent filed his brief: 213 pages, 55 points of error, claiming the Smith County district attorney had engaged in egregious misconduct spanning 15 years, which had denied Cook a fair trial. But Cook had no faith in the system. He didn't think the court would have the courage to reverse his case again.

And he prepared to die.

He began to study scripture in earnest; he made contact with a Dallas woman, Mikaela Raine, who was interested in ministering to prisoners. She would eventually agree to be his spiritual advisor, standing by him in those final moments as he entered the death chamber. "When they execute me," he told her, "I want your face to be the last I see."

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