Longform

Innocence Lost

Page 7 of 10

Nevertheless, Nugent and his co-counsel, Chris Flood, hammered away at the state's case, scoring points against the Tyler police for its shoddy investigation: Why were the Mayfields dismissed as suspects so easily? Why hadn't the police found the knife at the scene? Why hadn't the victim's panties been tested for DNA?

Jim Mayfield testified as expected: He had been home with his wife and daughter on the night of the murder; he hadn't been romantically involved with Linda Jo Edwards for three weeks prior to her death. But Mayfield seemed cold and unmoved by the tragedy, Cook recalls.

The defense even had its way with pathologist Dr. V.V. Gonzalez, who admitted that his original autopsy report about Edwards said nothing about missing body parts. At first he testified that they had been cut out, but then confessed that nothing was actually missing and that extensive stabbing and cutting had destroyed the lip and vagina. Dallas pathologist Dr. Linda Norton, one of the 12 defense witnesses, testified that she had serious doubts any body parts were missing. "This wasn't a souvenir crime," she said recently. "Her vaginal wounds were associated with a love relationship gone bad."

In closing arguments, prosecutors took the same position as their predecessors had 14 years earlier: Cook murdered Edwards in a homicidal frenzy, severing her body parts after being aroused by a cat-mutilation scene in a movie. Cook then stuffed these bloody body parts into Edwards' stocking, which he then stole. That's why the stocking was missing from the scene.

When the jury retired to deliberate its verdict, it asked to review some of the exhibits: documents, photos, the clothing of the deceased. Five hours later, they sent out a note: "We found the stocking."


For a brief moment, Cook believed he had certain proof that the prosecution's case was bogus: There was no missing stocking, no sexual souvenirs, no stranger-on-stranger thrill kill. Just a shoddy police investigation. When a juror was examining Edwards' blue jeans, he reached up into a pants leg and pulled out the "missing" stocking. Five days later, after voting six to six, the jurors declared themselves hopelessly deadlocked.

If there had been some plausible explanation as to how Cook's fingerprints got on the door, jurors told Cook's lawyers, they would have acquitted him. But Tunnell had barred that testimony as hearsay, challenging Cook to take the witness stand and explain the fingerprints himself. But that was a risk his lawyers were unwilling to take.

Prosecutors immediately vowed to try Cook a third time, and he was returned to the Smith County jail. For the next 11 months, Cook was placed in solitary confinement, afraid that if he spoke to a prisoner or guard, he might be facing another jailhouse confession. "Look what they had done with Shyster Jackson, then A.D. Clark in the press, then Robert Wickham," Cook says. Before the second trial, the prosecution had even impaneled a grand jury to gather new evidence. Their lead witness was David Franklin Hunter, who certainly had a vendetta against Cook for marrying his girlfriend. Franklin told grand jurors that when they were cellmates, Cook confessed to him as well, said he had even eaten the victim's body parts. He would later recant his testimony, Cook says, and never testified at trial.

The third trial was set to begin in January 1994, again in Georgetown, only this time without Judge Tunnell, who had retired. Instead, visiting Judge Robert Jones, an unpopular district judge who had been defeated for re-election in Travis County, was assigned the case. He immediately adopted all of Tunnell's rulings from the '92 trial -- all evidence of prosecutorial misconduct would be banned; all testimony that Cook was an invited guest in Linda Jo Edwards' apartment would be disallowed unless it came from Cook himself. The '92 trial seemed as if it were a dress rehearsal for the '94 premier: The state's witnesses were more prepared this time, more committed to Cook's guilt than ever.

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.

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald