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Innocence Lost

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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."

McCloskey believed he could convince Dobbs that Mayfield was the killer, and he gave him a copy of his investigative report. Within two weeks, McCloskey says, Dobbs shared the report with Mayfield himself. "David Dobbs betrayed me," McCloskey claims. "He was just gathering ammunition to rebut what we had learned and prepare for trial."

Apparently McCloskey had misread how invested the prosecution was in keeping Cook on death row. To them, Cook wasn't just some anonymous inmate whose case was reversed on a technicality. He was a vicious celebrity criminal who had attacked the integrity of Smith County justice. With the help of a big-city newspaper, he had made the people of Tyler look foolish.

Centurion convinced Houston attorney Paul Nugent to represent Cook for free. Boston-born, Nugent possessed a New England reserve and a bearing not dissimilar to a Kennedy. After clerking for a federal judge in Galveston, he moved to Houston to join the firm of renowned criminal attorney Percy Foreman.

Nugent maintains that he has "never encountered a district attorney's office as dishonorable as Smith County's." In the late fall of '91, Nugent and Dobbs were sifting through a box of documents when Nugent noticed a thick memo written by Sgt. Doug Collard to a fingerprint certification board. A grievance had been filed against Collard by another examiner after the Morning News had questioned how the officer could date a latent fingerprint down to the hour. Collard responded that he knew there was no scientific validity to his opinion and that it was "a mistake" to express it. But district attorney Clark had pressured him to testify that way and the sergeant, now a captain, apparently lacked the will to resist. The whole episode sank to the level of flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald