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Texas court exonerates man who spent nearly 20 years on death row

After nearly 47 years, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals exonerated Kerry Max Cook of the 1977 murder of Linda Jo Edwards, finding him innocent of a crime for which he spent nearly 20 years on death row.

“This case is rife with allegations of State misconduct that justify the overturning of the applicant’s conviction,” wrote the judge Bert Richardson in the decision issued Wednesday by the court, which stated that evidence favorable to Cook was withheld and that some of the evidence presented at his first trial in 1978 was later revealed to be false.

“And when it comes to strong support for actual innocence, this case has it all: uncontested Brady violations, evidence of perjury, admissions of perjury, and new scientific evidence.”

The case spans three trials and multiple appeals, including to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cook was accused of raping, murdering and mutilating 21-year-old Edwards in Tyler, Texas in 1977. She was found in her bedroom by her roommate, Paula Rudolph.

Cook lived in the same apartment complex as the victim, which made him a suspect. A set of fingerprints on Edwards’ sliding patio door matched Cook’s.

Scientific analysis and expert testimony debunked the claim that the footprints found on the patio door were “fresh.”

Cook was sentenced to death at his first trial in 1979, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal. The second trial, in 1992, ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. A third trial in 1994 ended with a new conviction and the death penalty.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the second verdict in 1996, citing misconduct by police and prosecutors.

In 1999, the results of DNA tests performed on Edwards’ underwear did not match Cook’s.

Edward Scott Jackson, an inmate at the Smith County Jail and the star witness in Cook’s first trial, testified that Cook told him he had killed Edwards. He later recanted his testimony, saying, “I lied about him to save myself.” Jackson admitted that he lied in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Before a fourth trial in 1999, the State offered Cook a “no contest” deal for murder. He was sentenced to 20 years and the time served was deducted, allowing him to be released. However, the conviction remained.

Kerry Cook maintained his innocence throughout the trial and has now been formally found not guilty of murdering Edwards.

“Kerry has suffered immensely for almost 50 years and nothing can give her back her life,” he told CNN one of Cook’s lawyers, Glenn Garber of the Exoneration Initiative.

“The decision definitively and resoundingly clears its name and, at the same time, is a chronicle of the state’s outrageous and relentless misconduct,” Garber said.

“It is important that the people of Tyler, Smith County and the world understand this travesty of justice and see it for what it has always been: a disturbing witch hunt by state agents.”

A CNN reached out to the office of Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman, who took office in 2019, for comment. This week’s appeals court ruling noted that it did not hold current prosecutors “in any way responsible for past events in this case.”

Now 68, Cook is one of at least 199 people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death and who have been exonerated since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment is legal in 27 states.

Source: CNN Brasil

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