Longform

Innocence Lost

Page 6 of 10

Dobbs also gave Nugent grand jury testimony and witness statements -- exculpatory evidence that had been denied Cook's first attorneys. Four witnesses -- Hoehn, James Taylor, and Taylor's nephews, Randy and Rodney Dykes -- had testified before the grand jury that Cook had told them days before the murder that he had met Edwards at the swimming pool and she had given him the hickeys that they each saw on his neck. (James Taylor was unaware of Cook's claim that he had entered Edwards' apartment.) This ran counter to the state's theory in the '78 trial that this was a stranger-on-stranger murder. It was a theory the state would be loath to give up.

On March 4, 1992, Judge Joe Tunnell, who would preside over the case, ordered Cook back to the Smith County jail. Cook had decided to leave his radio and typewriter behind, hopeful that he would never see death row again. Those hopes were quickly dashed when David Dobbs greeted him in the jail.

Cook says he told Dobbs he didn't want to speak with him, terrified that he was just trying to get him to confess. "Dobbs said he was working with McCloskey," Cook recalls, "and was willing to listen to any evidence of my innocence." Cook became hysterical, telling Dobbs that his predecessor, A.D. Clark, had made him out to be a homosexual, and look where that got him. Cook then dropped his pants, he says, and showed Dobbs the tattoo etched into his buttocks.

Dobbs would tell a different story, claiming he warned Cook not to speak with him unless his attorney was present. Yet Dobbs knew that Cook was represented by counsel, and Judge Tunnell would later rebuke Dobbs for his "improper" and "misguided"..."breach of duty and protocol" by speaking to a defendant without his attorney being present.

In jail, Cook was allowed one phone call and contacted David Hanners. The Morning News would recount the jailhouse confrontation in a story that questioned the ethics of the prosecutor. Two months later, Smith County announced it would retry Cook.

Tunnell was a cantankerous jurist who ran his courtroom with a heavy gavel. On his own motion, he changed the venue of the case from Tyler to Georgetown, a town noted for its law-and-order juries. When the trial began in October 1992, the state once again portrayed Cook as a sadistic voyeur who didn't know his victim and cut off her body parts before stuffing them in a stocking as sexual souvenirs. Tunnell aided them in that portrayal. He permitted the Dykes brothers to testify that Cook said he had seen the victim naked while he was peering into her window. But he excluded Cook's statement that he had been an invited guest inside Edwards' apartment, ruling it was hearsay and leaving the defense with no plausible explanation as to how Cook's fingerprints got on Edwards' patio door.

If Dobbs had wanted payback against Hanners, he certainly got it when he called Cook's most ardent defender as a witness for the prosecution. Hanners reluctantly testified that Cook had told him during their death row interview that he didn't know Edwards, once again corroborating the state's stranger-on-stranger theory.

Tunnell refused to allow the defense to present any evidence of police or prosecutorial misconduct from the '78 trial. The jury would never learn that Smith County prosecutors had presented what defense attorneys claimed was perjured testimony, had suppressed highly exculpatory evidence, or had insisted a fingerprint examiner give an opinion that was a scientific impossibility.

The jury would hear, however, from Robert Wickham, a reserve Smith County sheriff's deputy, who testified that while he was escorting Cook from the jail to jury selection in 1978, Cook asked him, "Do you think I killed her?...Well, I killed her, and I don't give a shit what they do to me." Yet for 14 years, Wickham never felt compelled to bring this confession to the attention of prosecutors because it would be "his word against mine," Wickham testified.

"You're a liar!" Cook shouted in open court. "This is unbelievable." After calming his client, Nugent brought out that Wickham had never transported a prisoner either before or after Cook, and painted him as a wannabe cop who was lying to grab attention. There were no employment records to show he even worked that day. And what law enforcement officer wouldn't leap at the chance of nailing a capital murder suspect who had just confessed?

With Robert Hoehn dead, Cook's lawyers couldn't cross-examine him about his original statement to the police (suppressed by Clark) that he and Cook had never had sexual relations. The state was permitted to introduce a transcript of his '78 testimony, deleting prejudicial references to Hoehn and Cook having anal and oral sex while watching a movie -- though Hoehn's testimony that Cook had masturbated on the carpet during the movie remained. And despite Hoehn telling the grand jury that Cook had paid little attention to the movie, Tunnell allowed the jury to view the entire film.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald