Texas Man on Death Row for 20 Years Exonerated in Shock Verdict

A Texas appeals court on June 19 formally exonerated a man who spent 20 years on death row for a 1977 murder he did not commit.

Kerry Max Cook was accused of the rape, murder, and mutilation of 21-year-old Linda Jo Edwards in East Texas in 1977. Cook was initially convicted in 1978 but his conviction was later overturned on appeal.

After his retrial in 1992 ended in a mistrial, Cook was tried again in 1994 and was convicted and sentenced to death. Two years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the 1994 verdict, citing misconduct by police and prosecutors that tainted the case from the beginning.

Smith was released from prison in 1997.

In 1999, the Smith County district attorney dropped a fourth attempt at a trial and instead reached a plea deal that released Cook from prison but kept his conviction in place.

In 2016, the Smith County District Attorney’s Office set aside Cook’s conviction but the Texas justice system still classified him as a murderer.

With the June 19 ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the 68-year-old Cook is finally, formally declared innocent.

Writing on behalf of the Court of Criminal Appeals, appellate Judge Bert Richardson said the case against Cook was “riddled” with allegations of misconduct that justified setting aside his conviction.

Judge Richardson wrote that there was “solid support” in the case for Cook’s innocence, including evidence of Brady violations, false testimony, and admissions of perjury, as well as new scientific evidence.

The appellate court cited numerous examples of misconduct by both police in prosecutors in the case, including withholding exculpatory evidence from Cook’s defense and presenting evidence that was later revealed to be false.

The prosecution’s only witness was an inmate who met Cook in jail and claimed that the defendant had confessed to killing Edwards. The witness later recanted and admitted that he lied “to save myself.”