On Saturday, we stopped to take note -- belatedly -- of the passing of Randall Dale Adams, whose October death didn't reach newspapers till late last week. Adams, of course, was freed from prison in '89 following the release of Errol Morris's documentary The Thin Blue Line, which helped prove he had nothing at all to do with the shooting death of a Dallas Police officer in 1976.
In prison, Adams got to know another wrongly imprisoned man: Kerry Max Cook, subject of this 1999 cover story in the paper version of Unfair Park, who was sent away for the rape and murder of an East Texas woman he didn't commit. Kerry spent 22 years in prison, wrote an award-winning book about his experience, was featured on Frontline and speaks wherever and whenever he can about issues related to his case and those like his, and they are myriad.
Reason I mention Kerry Max Cook is earlier today, he dropped a comment in the Randall Dale Adams item, and lest it go unnoticed, I thought I'd share it in a separate item. As it's a lengthy essay, it follows on the other side. If you have a moment.
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My name is Kerry Max Cook. I am not here to talk about what it took for me to survive twenty-two years on death row as an innocent person. I am here to talk about a man I met while I was on Texas death row who was also innocent, my friend Randall Dale Adams.
It was the summer of 1978 when I met a young Randall Dale Adams on cellblock J-21 -- the original death row "wing" where those exiled under a sentence of death were assigned "Ad. Seg," or Administrative Segregation, as prison officials classify it.
Death row was a lot of things, but most of all, it was a wild and crazy place, a hate factory and an austere human repository warehousing every conceivable mental and emotional disorder known to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
As an example, Randall and I would be talking and, without warning, violence erupted from somewhere around us. Once, I witnessed a quick scuffle and then heard the dull thud of a heavy body falling solidly to the concrete floor, met by a guard's shrill screams, "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!" The body of death row inmate Edward King lay prostrate gasping his last breath with a chicken bone protruding from his chest, mortally wounded by a fellow death row inmate -- his best friend. By the time the nurses arrived, Edward King needed only the stale, dirty state-issued dingy sheet to wrap and remove him to await the Walker County coroner's office.
Randall Dale Adams clearly didn't belong there, despite having come, at one time, less than 72 hours away from execution. He didn't suffer from an anti-social, schizophrenic personality disorder, indigenous to a diseased and dangerous mind gone AWOL. Randall Dale Adams was no killer.
Simply put, Randall Dale Adams was a square, an innocent American citizen who fell victim to the antics of a troubled teenager named David Ray Harris. Randall, through twist of fate, got caught in the cross hairs of an overzealous Texas prosecutor. Randall was a naive, quiet and unassuming, kind man who cared about others. Had he not agreed to give David Harris a ride that fateful night, I would not have met Randall on death row and officer Robert W. Wood would still be alive.
The last time I saw Randall was when we met in Austin and testified before the 77th Texas Legislature.
Randall's ordeal with Texas officials and the fight to clear his name and be recognized was so grueling and intense; he left public life and moved back to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio where he died last October.
In representing Randall in this moment of grief, I think if Randall could have left you with something, it would be this:
"We rightfully legislate laws to honor victims of unspeakable crimes. You didn't recognize me in life, and maybe you won't recognize me in death, but I still believe in you, even though your politics sometimes prevents you from believing in me. You don't have to remember me, but please, for the sake of those who follow after me, please remember my story..."