For this kind of decision, Kerry Max Cook needed room to pace, but 5 feet was all he would allow himself: Two steps forward, turn, two steps back, turn. The distance was set in his bones. Pacing that same 5-foot span for hours at a time had been his way of staying sane in the barbaric place where he had spent nearly half his life. Five feet was the width of his cell on death row for more than 17 years.
Although he had received a temporary reprieve from those confines, Cook kept the same pace on February 16 in Bastrop, Texas. He was about to stand trial for capital murder for an unprecedented fourth time. Again the state would be seeking the death penalty. Only this time, something was different.
With the jury ready to be selected, the prosecution was in a bargaining mood. Cook had refused their past overtures, telling them he would never plead guilty even if it meant saving his life. He had suffered too much, believed they had taken everything from him -- his youth, his dignity, his masculinity. All he had left was his claim of innocence; it had kept him alive on death row, and he wasn't about to compromise it now. "I was prepared to die for my innocence," he says.
Cook had been a condemned man since 1978, when a jury first found him guilty of the 1977 mutilation slaying of Linda Jo Edwards, a Tyler secretary. Prosecutors claimed Cook murdered Edwards while in a homosexual rage, bludgeoning her over the head with a statue to subdue her and stabbing her in the back, breasts, and neck with a vegetable knife to finish her off. Then, according to the state, in a moment of macabre perversity, he grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off part of her lower lip, a lock of her hair, and her vagina, shoving the bloody body parts into Edwards' stocking and carting them off as sexual souvenirs.
While Cook waited eight years for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to hear his case -- one of the longest direct appeals in American history -- the Smith County District Attorney's Office was accused of lying and cheating its way to a conviction. In 1991, after Cook had spent 13 years on death row, the appellate court reversed the case on constitutional grounds, ruling that his rights were violated when a state psychiatrist did not warn him that their interview could be used against him. But the court didn't consider whether the prosecution was guilty of misconduct.
A second generation of Tyler prosecutors led by chief felony prosecutor David Dobbs refused to let such a gruesome murder go unpunished. Despite several likely suspects, Smith County seemed too proud, too invested in Cook's guilt to back off. But this time, Cook's case had become something of a crusade for Centurion Ministries, an organization dedicated to fighting for the unjustly convicted. Even the conservative Dallas Morning News took up the cause. Investigative reporter David Hanners repeatedly attacked Smith County authorities in headline-grabbing front-page stories, accusing prosecutors of "railroading" Cook by building its case on "circumstantial, prejudicial, questionable, and conveniently altered evidence."
Although the second trial in 1992 resulted in a hung jury, the Smith County district attorney secured a conviction after a third trial in 1994, sending Cook back to death row. The victory, however, was short-lived. In 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again overturned Cook's conviction, this time holding that "prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset." Cook was released on bond, but the district attorney vowed to seek the death penalty a fourth time. "We wouldn't even consider a plea to life," David Dobbs told reporters.
But before jury selection was about to begin, the prosecution made one final offer: If Cook were to plead no contest to a reduced charge of murder, he would never see another day in prison. Judge Robert Jones, no friend of the defense, gave Cook's attorneys 30 minutes to mull it over. Once the trial began, all bets were off.
Cook, along with his lawyers and close supporters, retreated to the Pecan Inn, the Bastrop bed-and-breakfast that had become their war room. "They caved," said his Dallas attorney Cheryl Watley. "It must be the DNA. It's the only reason."
Only days before, the state crime lab in Austin had discovered a semen stain on the panties that Edwards was wearing when she was killed. Was it the murderer's semen? A DNA analysis might reveal that it was. It would be the middle of the trial before the results were known.
But Cook had only minutes to decide his fate, and he began to pace. "I need you guys to help me figure this out," he told those assembled.
Jim McCloskey, the tough, burly minister from Centurion Ministries who had taken on Cook's case nearly a decade before, welled up in tears. "Kerry, I know it's your decision, but I believe this time you'll go free."
"I say fuck 'em," said Steven "Rocket" Rosen, Cook's attorney from Houston. "I say we go to trial. I think we can beat 'em."
Watley was more cautious. "You know, Kerry, a bird in the hand...You'll be free, and it will all be over."
Mikaela Raine, one of Kerry's closest friends, had been mingling among the jury panel, listening to their conversation. "It was awful, Kerry. Some of them say you're guilty. One woman called you a monster."
Cook had heard enough. He walked into the large bathroom off the dining area, needing room to breathe. He had to think harder and faster than ever before in his life. It wasn't death that he feared, it was death row -- the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
He knew to what lengths the prosecution was willing to go to convict him. Pleading no contest would be a way to save face. He wouldn't have to admit guilt, even though the judge would find him guilty. His innocence would be compromised, but at least he would be alive.
Cook walked out of the bathroom, and all eyes focused on him. "I'm going to choose life over death," he told them. "I'd rather fight my innocence outside the prison walls as a free man than inside under the death penalty, where no one will believe me."
After the deal was done, a party broke out at the Pecan Inn. Defense attorneys danced with reporters to the sound of Gladys Knight and the Pips, the '70s music that still seemed hip to Cook. Yet he sat alone in a corner, staring out the window and crying. An Associated Press reporter asked him why he wasn't celebrating. "Come, on Kerry -- you can drink a beer now if you want."
"This is not the victory I had envisioned for myself from a 5-by-9 cell," Cook replied. "I am innocent but convicted."
Five months later, the paradox of Cook's decision still haunts him. At 43, Cook acts like a big kid -- playful, good-natured, remarkably curious about life. Only when his innocence is challenged does the intensity that still burns inside him flare up in anger. "The prosecution nailed me to the wall. They sponsored perjury, suppressed evidence, manufactured a case out of whole cloth. It's madness. It's not just out of my head. I lived this nightmare for 22 years, but how am I supposed to tell my story without looking like a liar or like I'm making something up or hiding the truth? Who is going to believe me? Who is going to believe me?"
Kerry Cook is the first to admit that, as a teenager, he was no saint. An Army brat and something of a mama's boy, he spent his early childhood in Europe, living on or near military bases in Belgium, France, and Germany. Despite moving dozens of times and attending some schools for as little as two months, Cook remembers those days as the best of his life. Together with his big brother Doyle Wayne, his best friend, they felt accepted wherever they went.
Sundays meant field trips with his father, a career soldier, exploring the Black Forest or the Eiffel Tower. His mother and father were high school sweethearts, and their dream was to return to their hometown of Jacksonville, Texas, someday and open up a family restaurant.
In 1972, the Cooks moved to Fort Hood in Killeen. Ernest "Doyle" Cook retired that summer, and the family moved to Jacksonville, where Kerry enrolled as a sophomore in high school. Jacksonville, located 28 miles south of Tyler, was a small town of 12,000, and Kerry Cook wanted no part of it.
He was used to moving from place to place and resented slowing down -- it didn't help that he was hyperactive. He convinced two friends to steal a car and at least drive to Killeen. It was the last place where things had made sense to him.
But before they got to Fort Hood, they ran out of gas and had to call Cook's parents. Since Cook was only 16, the Jacksonville police didn't know whether to file charges or ground him. Cook must have made that decision easier, because within the next several months, he and his friends stole three more cars.
"Cook wasn't your normal red-blooded American kid," recalls Danny Stallings, the former sheriff of Cherokee County, where Jacksonville is located. "He was just real rebellious. He developed quite a reputation for himself."
At 17, Cook was charged with car theft and held in the county jail, his bond set too high for his parents to post. Instead, they spent their money on a lawyer who decided to have Cook evaluated at Rusk State Hospital to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial. "He told me a sympathetic report from Rusk might be a way to avoid prison time," Cook recalls.
In a one-page evaluation dated September 20, 1973, the state hospital's chief clinical psychologist, Dr. Jerry Landrum, declared him fit to stand trial. Landrum found Cook "immature emotionally" -- crying for his mother nearly every night. A second psychologist recommended "love and affection and emotional support" as well as counseling.
Instead, Cherokee County Judge J.W. Summers sentenced Cook to two years in the penitentiary, where he was housed in the Ferguson Unit and placed in a cell with a child rapist who Cook claims raped him as well. "He sexually abused me every night and swore he would kill me if I told anybody," Cook recalls. "I wasn't some street thug. I went joyriding. I ran away from home. I was 17."
By April 1974, Cook was paroled and returned to his parents' home in Jacksonville. Cook claims that after he returned, the Jacksonville police harassed him every chance they got, questioning him whenever they had an unsolved crime.
He managed to cobble together a life for himself, working as a stock boy at Discount City, sharing an apartment with a girl named Lydia. Their landlord was an elderly Jacksonville businessman who also owned a hardware store. One month, Cook says, Lydia went to pay the rent, but returned in tears: The landlord had come on to her, hoping to barter their rent money for sex. Cook stormed into the man's store and told him if he ever put his hands on Lydia again, he would regret it.
The next morning, the Jacksonville police broke down Cook's door. He was under arrest for the armed robbery of the landlord. Only the robbery had occurred at noon the day before, and Cook was working that day and had the time cards to prove it. Regardless, he spent several months in the Cherokee County Jail in Rusk before the case was dropped.
On the day of his release, his mother and father came to the jail to bring their boy home. Lydia was there as well, but she had met someone else, and they had married. She told Kerry that their former landlord had kept all their things and was renting out their old unfurnished apartment as furnished.
Two weeks after his release, Cook got drunk, went to the man's store, and broke out a plate-glass window, walking off with several rifles. After his arrest, Cook says, "I told the police I did it. I was relieved to tell them, because this was something that I had actually done."
On April 15, 1976, Cook was convicted of criminal mischief and received five years probation, gaining a sympathetic ally in his probation officer, Bobby Townley. Townley believed that Cook had become something of a police magnet in Jacksonville. "He probably was being harassed," Townley recalls. "They probably stopped him every time they saw him." Four other charges had been filed against Cook in Cherokee County, and prosecutors eventually dropped each of them.
Yet Townley still had a job to do, and when Cook fell far behind on his probation fees and restitution, Townley threatened to send him back to prison. Cook grew distraught, and on May 25, 1976, voluntarily committed himself to Rusk State Hospital at Townley's suggestion. Townley even drove him there in his pickup, informing hospital personnel that Cook was under tremendous pressure because of police harassment.
Again, Cook was seen by Dr. Landrum, whose records reflect that he found Cook situationally depressed and listed his primary diagnosis as "inadequate personality (immaturity and impulsiveness)," and a secondary diagnosis as drug abuse and antisocial personality. Yet he believed his prognosis was "good with appropriate psychiatric care."
Cook never received that care. After four days at Rusk, he leaped from a window and ran. He traveled to San Francisco, worked in New Orleans, and eventually wound up in Dallas after he learned from his parents that his grandmother was seriously ill at Parkland Hospital.
Meandering around downtown, Cook walked into a popular gay bar, the Old Plantation on North Harwood Street, and struck up a conversation with the bartender, telling his hard-luck tale and gaining sympathy and a couch to sleep on. Cook was young, handsome, and exploring his sexuality. The bartender was gay, and it was the '70s. "I don't know if I was bisexual or just partially bisexual," Cook says. "I had relationships with girls as well as guys."
For the next six months, Cook became part of the local gay scene, tending bar at the Old Plantation, renting an apartment in Oak Lawn. But he grew tired of being a fugitive and phoned Bobby Townley, agreeing to surrender himself at his parents' barbecue restaurant in Jacksonville the next day.
Cook boarded a bus for Tyler, and once there, decided to hitchhike the rest of the way home. A truck driver named James Taylor pulled up his rig next to Cook and offered him a ride and a beer. Taylor had divorced his wife and was just beginning to live as a gay man in Tyler. He thought he recognized Cook from the Old Plantation, and when Cook told his story, Taylor convinced him to stay at his apartment for as long as he needed to think things through. Taylor lived in the Embarcadero Apartments, a Tyler complex geared to singles and tennis and sun.
Cook lived off his host for the next two weeks, but Taylor wanted sex in return. Taylor would later testify that Cook was unable to climax with him, taking the more passive role, but Cook says he found the bearded, heavyset Taylor unattractive. "The more he pressured me sexually, the more pressure I felt to turn myself in."
One morning, Taylor drove Cook to his parents' restaurant, where he met Townley, who then escorted him to the Cherokee County jail. In early May 1977, Cook's court-appointed lawyer discovered an error in Cook's original indictment, and his case was thrown out of court. It was a technicality, but Cook wasn't complaining. For the first time since he moved to Jacksonville, there would be no police, no parole, no probation, no prison. "I was 21 years old and free," he says.
James Taylor wrote Cook in jail, telling him that once he got out, there was a place for him in his one-bedroom apartment. Against his brother's advice, Cook moved in with Taylor, using the situation as an all-expenses-paid vacation. Cook whiled away the hours swimming at the pool, soaking up the sun, getting drunk, and fending off Taylor's advances.
Yet Taylor seemed proud of his young houseguest, who wore his wavy brown hair down to his shoulders like a rock star. When he wasn't on the road, Taylor took Cook to parties, showing him off to his gay friends. Robert Hoehn, a Tyler hairdresser who had invited Cook to his house for a barbecue, would later testify that he considered Cook something of a "hustler."
On the afternoon of June 6, 1977, Cook was at the Embarcadero swimming pool. Also there, Cook claims, was Linda Jo Edwards, whom he had seen a few nights before standing naked in front of her bedroom window. Cook couldn't resist taking a few steps toward the window to get a better peek: The woman was strikingly tall, more than 6 feet, and she had dark hair and a gorgeous body, which she was fondling.
Cook says he struck up a conversation at the pool. She seemed like a sweet country girl, bubbly and easy to talk to. She invited him inside her apartment for some iced tea. They went in through the patio door, with her leading the way and Cook sliding the door closed behind him. Sitting on the living-room sofa together, they began kissing, "getting into the moment," Cook says. "She began panting pretty heavily and started kissing me on the neck. I guess that's when she gave me the passion marks. We realized things were getting out of hand, and both of us put a stop to it. "
Within the next several days, Cook would brag about his exploits to Rodney and Randy Dykes, Taylor's teenage nephews, pointing out the window where he first spied Edwards naked and telling them that she was the same woman who had given him the hickeys on his neck.
Cook told the same thing to Taylor and later to Taylor's friend Robert Hoehn, who reluctantly agreed to come over to the apartment on the night of June 9, 1977. Taylor was out of town and Cook was at the apartment with Alan Tooke, another friend of Taylor's.
When Hoehn arrived at 10:45, Tooke had just left and Cook was watching an R-rated movie on cable, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. The way Cook tells it, he wasn't interested in the film and insisted they drink beer at the pool while waiting for a frozen pizza to cook in the oven. Passing by Linda Jo Edwards' window, Cook tried to convince Hoehn to take a peek, but he refused. After returning to the apartment, Cook says, Hoehn got frisky, but Cook discouraged him. "I really liked him, just not in that way," Cook says.
By midnight, Hoehn wanted to leave, but not before Cook convinced him to drive to the store for cigarettes. Hoehn dropped Cook off at around 12:30 a.m. Cook asked him to come inside, but Hoehn said he had to get up early, and left.
The next morning, Randy Dykes came by the apartment to take Cook to Jacksonville, where he would spend the weekend with his brother. As they left the apartment, they saw a half-dozen squad cars, an ambulance, and several TV news trucks. The place was thick with cops, who had cordoned off an apartment with yellow tape. A reporter told them that some woman was "hurt bad," and Cook thought it might be Edwards' apartment. Only he wasn't about to wait around to find out -- not with his history with the police.
The murder of Linda Jo Edwards shook Tyler down to its fundamentalist roots. The conservative East Texas community considered itself a safe place to raise a family. Its folks were churchgoers, rose growers, country gentlemen who took good care of their Southern belles. Naturally, they were shocked to learn that one of their own had been murdered and mutilated.
Doug Collard, the Tyler police sergeant who investigated the crime scene, said the Edwards murder was one of the most brutal crimes in Smith County history. When he arrived at the Embarcadero Apartments on the morning of June 10, 1977, he found Edwards lying spread-eagled and face-up. She had been stabbed 20 to 30 times in the face, neck, back, breast, and pubic areas. She was nude except for her bra and blouse, which appeared to have been cut and pulled behind her neck. A pair of pink panties at her right foot had been cut open. Blue jeans were crumbled on the floor beside her. She had an ankle-length stocking on her left foot, but none on her right. Part of her right lower lip appeared to be cut off "and was missing from the crime scene," Collard concluded in his report.
Tyler pathologist V.V. Gonzalez arrived at the apartment at 9:30 a.m., examined the body, and had it moved to a funeral home, where he would conduct an autopsy. He could find no evidence of rape, but the repeated stabbing and cutting had so mutilated her vaginal area, he couldn't rule it out. A lock of her hair also was missing. Gonzalez determined that the killer probably grabbed a plaster statue from the front hallway of the apartment and struck Edwards in the head and face with it eight to 10 times. The killer then stabbed her repeatedly with some kind of long-bladed knife and a pair of sewing scissors that were found in her bedroom. The cause of death, he concluded, was "multiple stab wounds and blunt force injuries to the head."
Collard collected nine sets of fingerprints around the apartment, but only one was suspicious. These prints -- four fingers in a row -- were found on the outside patio door frame. Only one of the four was clear enough for comparison.
When there are no defensive wounds on the victim, no signs of struggle or a forced entry, the police generally speculate that the victim might have known her attacker. Edwards' roommate, Paula Rudolph, told police that she returned home the night before around 12:30, entered her unlocked apartment, and noticed a "a figure jump from behind the door in Linda's room. I remember the figure had silver hair cut in a medium touching-the-ears fashion that men wear...The body was that of a Caucasian with a tan, wearing white shorts of some fashion... The figure was sleek and slender, and he moved quickly behind the door in Linda's room and closed it...I knew that Linda had been seeing my boss Jim Mayfield. My first impression upon seeing the figure was that it was he, even though I did not see facial features or hear him speak. I called out 'Don't worry, it's only me.'"
Rudolph went straight to her bedroom and within five minutes heard the patio doors open and shut.
At 2:30 p.m. that same day, Jim Mayfield showed up at the police station offering to help. Eddie Clark, the detective leading the investigation, interviewed him. Mayfield was the dean of library sciences at Texas Eastern University (which became the University of Texas at Tyler), and said he had first met Edwards when she was hired as his periodicals clerk. He told Clark they developed a "close relationship" in January 1976 when she began having marital problems. Mayfield was also married, but he invited Edwards to live with his family for six months. As their relationship grew more intense, he left his wife and three children, living with Edwards at the Embarcadero Apartments in May 1977. After a few days, he returned to his wife, and despite Edwards' subsequent suicide attempt, they continued their relationship as friends. He and Edwards had even spent some time together on the day of the murder. But that night, he claimed, he was home, asleep in bed with his wife. His 16-year-old daughter, Luella, was also at home and would confirm his story.
Mayfield agreed to take a police polygraph the following Monday, but by that time he had hired a lawyer who advised the family not to take the exam.
Although the police theorized that any one of the Mayfields could have done this in anger, investigators cleared them of all charges. None of their fingerprints were found at the scene, and the police said they could not disprove their alibis. The police interviewed only a few people at the university, believing the murder had more to do with Edwards' home than with her job.
But Detective Clark was determined to find the killer, his interest in solving the crime more than professional. He had known Linda Jo Edwards growing up; they had gone to school together in the tiny hamlet of Bullard, a few miles outside of Tyler. Clark was also a friend of her family. Under his supervision, police questioned, fingerprinted, and in some cases polygraphed nearly every male living at the Embarcadero -- more than 200 men were interrogated in what was touted as the most intensive manhunt in Tyler history.
Dr. Jerry Landrum, who had previously examined Kerry Cook at Rusk State Hospital and was living at the Embarcadero Apartments, offered his services to Clark. Landrum came up with a "psychological profile" of the murderer. The likely suspect, he said, was in all probability a male, 18 to 30 years old, possibly homosexual, possibly impotent, "very introverted," may have been on drugs, and also might be an epileptic.
On August 2, Clark went to the Embarcadero to fingerprint James Taylor, who asked Clark whether he had any idea who might have committed the crime. Clark went through the traits that Landrum had listed, asking Taylor whether he knew anyone who fit that description. Later, Taylor told him that a man by the name of Kerry Cook had lived with him briefly in June -- that he was probably homosexual and from his experiences with him, probably impotent. He had family in Jacksonville, Taylor said, and he left Tyler a few days after the murder. Taylor had kicked him out and driven him to Houston.
Upon learning that the Jacksonville police had Cook's fingerprints on file, Clark and Sgt. Collard raced there to make the comparison. Cook looked nothing like the physical description given by Paula Rudolph, but when the fingerprint on the patio door matched Cook's, the Tyler police were convinced they had their man.
On August 5, 1977, Kerry Cook was arrested in Port Arthur, where he had been working as a bartender. Cook recalls he was in shock. "I thought, 'Keep your mouth shut; you can't trust these people. You'll get out of this -- it may take a few days.' I didn't realize it was going to take the next 22 years of my life."
For 11 months while awaiting trial, Cook took up residence in the Smith County jail. He was placed in solitary confinement -- a cramped, metal "side cell," they called it. His only light emanated from the small window cut into the door, used by guards to feed him and make certain he was still alive. To occupy his mind, he dredged up memories of Germany and his family, of happier days. To occupy his body, he would do a thousand push-ups and a couple of thousand sit-ups every day. The exercise exhausted him enough to sleep, even though it might be six weeks between showers. The heat in the summer made the place a sweltering box; the cold in the winter was better -- it only numbed him to the bone. One time, he says, he complained about his accommodations and was taken to a separate cell and severely beaten by other prisoners. He never complained again.
Cook recalls that when his parents first came to visit him, his father said, "Don't tell them you were inside her apartment." That would hang him for sure. Cook never even told his own lawyers, and never told the police despite their relentless interrogation.
Sometimes, Cook says, the police wanted to know about Robert Hoehn, suggesting he was the real killer: Tell us about Hoehn. He's the one with light hair; he's the one identified at the scene. Maybe you just went along for the ride. But Cook never confessed, said he didn't know anything, said they had the wrong man.
"It got so bad that we had to file a motion to prevent the police from interrogating him in our absence," says Jacksonville lawyer John Ament, who along with LeRue Dixon represented Cook. Among the 44 pre-trial motions Cook's defense team filed were requests that prosecutors turn over any exculpatory evidence along with grand jury testimony. The prosecution claimed they had no evidence in Cook's favor, and the judge denied the defense access to grand jury testimony.
Yet Ament believed there wasn't enough evidence to convict Cook of anything -- except maybe of being a Peeping Tom. Paula Rudolph, the state's eyewitness, couldn't even identify Cook. In her police statement, she described a man who bore little resemblance to him. So what hard evidence did the state really have? A single fingerprint found on the outside of the apartment. The defense, misled by their own client, would take the position that Cook had placed his hands on the outside patio door while he was peering inside Edwards' apartment.
What Ament and Dixon didn't bargain for were the depths to which the prosecution was willing to sink to get a conviction. The state would present perjured testimony. It would intimidate witnesses, hide crucial evidence, distort reality, and bury the truth behind a wall of prejudice. The prosecution's constitutional duty is to do justice, not to obtain a conviction at all costs. Evidence favorable to the accused must be disclosed to the defense.
From witness statements and grand jury testimony, the state was told repeatedly that Cook had known Linda Jo Edwards, that she had invited him inside her apartment, that she was responsible for the hickeys that covered his neck. Yet the state hid these highly exculpatory statements from the defense, then proceeded to trial on a completely different theory: Cook was a sexual deviant who stalked his prey by peering at her through an open window. When their theory didn't fit the facts, they changed or omitted those facts to fit their theory.
The fact that this was a big murder in a small town kept the story on the front page; the fact that an unpopular district attorney, A.D. Clark III, was running for re-election made the Cook trial a campaign issue. "On the same news broadcast that Clark announced his candidacy," Ament recalls, "his office announces that Cook had been taken to Dallas to be interviewed by a psychiatrist, James Grigson, to see if he would kill again. Why, he hadn't even been convicted yet. It was just a hatchet job."
The trial was set to begin on June 5, 1978, and several months before, A.D. Clark hired Michael Thompson, who became the lead prosecutor on the case. Thompson was a spellbinding orator, but he was tightly wound and gung-ho to a fault. During one hearing, Ament recalls, Thompson leaned over to the defense table and said, "I'm going to put the needle in your guy."
For a jury to find Cook guilty of capital murder under Texas' new death-penalty statute, Thompson had to prove that the killing occurred while in the course of committing another felony. Since there was no evidence of rape or forced entry, the state also charged that Cook had entered Edwards' apartment with the intent to commit theft. Thompson contended that Cook had stolen the victim's missing ankle stocking after he stuffed it with her body parts, which he kept as souvenirs. The prosecutor would later tell the jury that he "wouldn't be surprised if [Cook] didn't eat those body parts." This outrageous argument was calculated to inflame the jury, and it did. One of them even vomited at the thought of it.
As grotesque as it sounded, the argument paled in comparison to what the jury saw next: Over the defense's objections, Judge Glenn Phillips permitted Sgt. Collard to present photographs of the crime scene, a common prosecutorial tactic used to illustrate testimony where relevant. Collard was allowed to present a 3 1/2-hour slide show of 66 gruesome, larger-than-life color photographs projected across the wall of the courtroom. The evidentiary overkill worked. "It didn't make a damn what our evidence was at that point," Ament says. "The jury was ready to convict the defendant and his lawyers."
Collard also testified that the prints he had lifted from the outside patio door frame the morning of the murder had been made while the person was standing inside the apartment after closing the door behind him. In his expert opinion, those prints were only 6 to 12 hours old. This branded Cook as the murderer since it put him at the scene at the time of Edwards' death.
Even though Collard had only taken a correspondence course in fingerprint examination, he knew that it was scientifically impossible to date a latent print. Yet he swore repeatedly -- in Cook's arrest warrant, at his examining trial, at his bond hearing, and now at trial -- that those prints were only 6 to 12 hours old. He would later swear that A.D. Clark made him do it -- that it was a "mistake" to offer this kind of opinion but that when he tried to do otherwise, he was met with "full and continued resistance" from the district attorney himself.
The Dykes brothers were up next, first Rodney, then Randy, and each testified that Cook had shown them the window of the woman whom he had watched "playing with herself." Both brothers (as well as James Taylor) had made prior statements to the police that Cook had also told them that the woman had invited him inside her apartment and given him hickeys that they observed on his neck. Despite his duty to disclose these statements, Thompson hid them from the defense and shrewdly avoided asking the Dykes brothers about Cook's encounter with Edwards. This salvaged his theory that the murder was committed stranger on stranger.
Paula Rudolph was the next witness, and like some fine wine, her testimony grew better over time. Despite her police statement within hours of the crime, Rudolph was now unyielding in her belief that the man she witnessed in her apartment in the early-morning hours of June 10, 1977, was Kerry Max Cook. Attempting to explain away the discrepancy regarding the figure's hair color and hair length, she testified that she was no longer certain that she saw the person's hair. "It was extremely bright lighting...It was a reflection, really," and that lighting caused her to mistake dark hair for silver. What's more, she had never identified Jim Mayfield as the man she saw; she only assumed it was him.
Once she was able to objectively remove her "preconceived" idea that it was Mayfield from her mind's eye and recall "the outline, the shape, the silhouette [of that figure against the light]," Cook "fit," she said. It didn't matter that millions of people might have the same shape, or that she was unable to identify facial features during the split second she was face-to-face with that silhouette; she positively identified Cook as the man in her apartment.
A.D. Clark was cunning: His only eyewitness had originally described an entirely different man. So he never showed Rudolph a photo of Cook, never had her pick him out of a lineup. In two preliminary hearings, prosecutors never asked her to identify Cook. On the contrary, she testified at a bond hearing that she wouldn't swear whom she saw on the night of the murder.
At the trial, however, a year after the murder, she had completely adopted the prosecution's point of view.
Although Robert Hoehn was the state's next witness, Cook recalls that during jury selection, Thompson had tried to broker an 11th-hour deal with the defense. "I was handcuffed to a chair in the jury room, and Thompson said, 'The state of Texas is prepared to offer the defendant a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Robert Hoehn.'" Cook never said a word to Thompson; his lawyers refused the deal.
When Hoehn took the witness stand, he seemed nervous, careful to avoid eye contact with Cook. He testified that when he arrived at Taylor's apartment, Cook was watching The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. Although Hoehn had told the grand jury that Cook didn't really pay "a whole lot" of attention to the movie, at trial Hoehn testified they both watched some of its more provocative scenes: when a teenage boy peers into his mother's bedroom and watches her masturbate; when the boy strokes his mother's silk stocking; and when the boy and his friends drug the sailor, and, with knives in hand, close in for the kill.
Hoehn testified that toward the end of the film, while the boys were readying their knives to kill the sailor, he and Cook had sexual relations: first oral sex, then anal sex. Then Cook, aroused by the movie but frustrated by his inability to perform with Hoehn, masturbated on the carpet.
Cook's lawyers were unaware that Hoehn had made a prior statement to the police, admitting that he was homosexual but denying that he had "any relations with Cook." Thompson just kept it to himself. It didn't fit his theory of the case that Cook, enraged by his homosexual frustration and aroused by the movie, worked himself into such a sexual frenzy that not 30 minutes later, he mutilated and murdered Linda Jo Edwards, re-enacting "every last minute of the movie" that he had just witnessed.
Thompson had managed to put homosexuality itself on trial. He repeatedly called Cook a "little pervert" and claimed he belonged to a "demonic cult" of homosexuals. "Let's let all the freaks and perverts of the world...know what we do in a court of justice," Thompson told the jury. "...We take their lives." In this strong Baptist community where homosexuality wasn't just against the law, but a sin against God, this base appeal to prejudice was highly effective.
Edward "Shyster" Jackson, billed as the state's key witness, was next to testify. Jackson was accused of murder himself and awaiting trial in the Smith County jail after shooting a man in a pool-hall fight. He testified that Cook had been transferred into his cell, and that they became friends. One day, he said, they were looking at a Hustler magazine, and Cook exploded when he saw a woman with dark hair. "He would make these comments like, 'I would like to fuck her hard' or 'This bitch needs her ass kicked for posing like that'...If there was a blonde or a red hair...they were fine." Linda Jo Edwards had dark hair, and Jackson testified that Cook told him he stabbed her and "gouged out her vagina," taking "a piece" with him.
Cook remembered Jackson from jail, but told his lawyers he barely spoke to him. How could they be cellmates, when he was sweating out his time in solitary? Ament and Dixon subpoenaed jail records to prove Jackson a liar, but the deputy who was sent to retrieve them reported that they were either missing or lost. When Chief Jailer Gene Carlson was served with a subpoena to offer his explanation, the court was instructed that he had left for vacation in Arkansas that same morning.
Though Jackson testified he had not made any deals with the prosecution, he bragged otherwise to friends in jail. The defense would later call a witness who testified that Jackson had told him that Cook's case was his "ace in the hole." In exchange for his testimony, the state was going to let him plead guilty to time served and reduce his charges to involuntary manslaughter.
Less than two months after Cook's trial, that's exactly what happened. Michael Thompson, who argued to the Cook jury, "I don't make deals with killers," reduced Jackson's charge from murder to manslaughter, and Jackson spent only a few more weeks behind bars. Weeks after his release, Jackson told two Dallas Morning News reporters and a Texas Ranger that his entire testimony against Cook was a "total fabrication" orchestrated by A.D. Clark himself. Jackson said he was shown photographs of the murder and fed information about the crime only the murderer would know.
Dr. V.V. Gonzalez was the state's final witness. He testified that part of the wall of the victim's vaginal canal was not found at the scene. Yet nowhere in his autopsy report did he mention that any body parts were missing. The state also used Gonzalez to shore up another problem: time of death. His autopsy report reflected that when he examined the body at the Embarcadero Apartments, he determined the victim had died 10 to 12 hours before -- between 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. But Robert Hoehn, the state's own witness, testified he had been with Cook from 10:45 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. Alan Tooke, the man at Taylor's apartment with Cook before Hoehn, provided Cook an alibi for several hours before that. So at trial, Gonzalez stated that he determined the time of death not at the apartment but during the autopsy two hours later. That meant Edwards had died between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., giving Cook ample opportunity to commit the crime.
Although Cook's attorneys never brought out this discrepancy, in their closing arguments they suggested that it was physically impossible for Cook to have committed the murder. He just didn't have enough time. Somewhere between 12:30 and 12:45, Rudolph had come home and encountered the silver-haired figure, who left within five minutes of her arrival. Robert Hoehn had dropped Kerry Cook off at those same apartments at 12:35 a.m. That meant Cook, whom Hoehn had last seen dressed in blue jeans over blue satin gym shorts, had to change into white shorts, work himself up into a sexual frenzy, and beat, stab, and mutilate Edwards in 10 minutes, 15 at the most. Gonzalez had testified that it would take five to 10 minutes to do that much damage to the victim's pubic area alone.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Regardless, the jury took only four hours to convict Cook of capital murder. The punishment phase of the trial went even quicker. Dr. James Grigson, known by the nickname Dr. Death because of his frequently damning testimony against capital murder defendants, and Landrum, who had treated Cook at Rusk State Hospital, testified that Cook was a sociopath who would be a continuing threat to society if given the chance. The jury refused to give Cook that chance and sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Cook was outraged by the verdict, convinced he was set up, framed: One witness after another had been either mistaken or flat-out lying, and he was unable to comprehend why anyone would do this to him. How could the police, the prosecution, life itself, have so conspired against him? Following his lawyers' advice, Cook didn't testify in his own defense, but after being sentenced, he refused to remain silent anymore.
"One day I'll prove I didn't do it," he told a reporter. "If it takes me 10 years, 20 years, I'll prove I didn't do it."
Next week: As Kerry Max Cook endures a hellish life on death row, the prosecution's case against him slowly begins to unravel.