Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Catch-up four: Kerry Max Cook: Texas; Bulletin: The fate of this former East Texas death row inmate seeking exoneration in Smith County now rests in the hands of a judge. "He was released from prison in 1997, after he pleaded no contest and received a reduced sentence of time served. Since then, Cook has been trying to get full exoneration for a crime he says he didn't commit. On June 6, Cook's conviction was set aside and cleared after an agreement between Cook's attorney's and the Smith County District Attorney's office. However, the agreement did (not) acknowledge Cook's 'actual innocence' or grant him a full exoneration.' KWES News.

"The fate of a former East Texas death row inmate seeking exoneration in Smith County now  rests in the hands of a judge. Kerry Max Cook was arrested and convicted in 1977 for the murder of Linda Jo Edwards of Tyler.   In Texas, full exoneration would entitle Cook to 1.6 million dollars in restitution for the 20 years he spent incarcerated.  Visiting judge Jack Carter of Texarkana told the courtroom that actual innocence means there is a finding of enough "new evidence" indicating a person is innocent, so much that it overcomes the prior conviction or decision. The State and Defense agreed not to call live witnesses, but instead each side gave comprehensive closing arguments. Cook's new defense attorney Mark Bennett from Houston told the court this case is about "love and betrayal"  Bennett described James Mayfield's affair with Edwards before her death. Mayfield is the person Cook's defense argues was the true killer of Edwards in 1997.  Mayfield was never arrested or charged.  In April, Smith County DA Matt Bingham gave Mayfield immunity in exchange for his testimony.  Though 93 year old Mayfield admitted to lying on the stand in various trials over the decades about when he last had sex with the victim, Mayfield denied killing Edwards. Edwards' underwear was tested for DNA in 1999 and came back a match to Mayfield. Judge Carter asked Bennett, if Mayfield was given immunity, why would he not admit to killing Edwards. Bennett responded that Mayfield has always tried to save his marriage, and can't admit to himself, his wife or his family that he is a murderer. Attorney for the State, Keith Dollahite, argued that Mayfield's false testimony doesn't undermine Cook's guilt. Dollahite also explained that the DNA found on Edwards' underwear could have been left there days before.   Dollahite also argued that the location of the semen on Edwards' underwear suggests she put the clothing back on after intercourse.  The underwear was found cut away from Edwards' body at the murder scene, presumably by the murderer.Judge Carter asked the State how they explain no DNA from Cook being found at the scene.  Dollahite said the collection of evidence in the 1970s would not have taken into consideration DNA, causing it not to be properly preserved.  Dollahite also argued that laches apply in this case, meaning too much time has passed for Cook to make his claims. The hearing ended after about two hours."