Kerry Max Cook, who has been fighting for his exoneration since his wrongful conviction decades ago, got one step closer to that goal when a judge dismissed the charges against him on Monday, June 6. Cook was convicted of the 1977 murder of a 21-year-old East Texas woman and sentenced to death in 1978, but has always insisted he was innocent of killing Linda Jo Edwards. He was released from prison in 1999 after he accepted a plea deal that prosecutors offered him, which entailed a sentence of time served—meaning he would not have to return to prison—as long as he plead no contest. Despite his freedom, Cook remained a convicted felon, and has continued fighting for his full exoneration.
Cook’s attorneys argued in court recently that from 1999 to 2015, after six rounds of DNA testing were performed, results determined that no evidence was identified proving Cook was at the scene of the murder. The testing did, however, confirm that semen present in the victim’s underwear belonged to James Mayfield, Edwards’ boss and ex-lover. According to Cook’s attorneys, the extramarital affair that Mayfield had with his employee did not end well. Mayfield, who has denied any involvement in Edwards’ murder, has never been charged in relation to the crime, despite authorities considering him a longtime suspect. According to several interviews with authorities and his original testimony, Mayfield claimed that his affair with Edwards ended three weeks before she was killed. In April, however, he admitted that they had sex the day before her murder after authorities re-interviewed him and granted him immunity from prosecution. That April confession suggested that Mayfield’s original testimony was false.
Cook’s attorneys and prosecutors came to an agreement to dismiss the charges against him, which a judge approved on June 6. The judge’s order claimed that in addition to a witness’ false testimony, the prosecution failed to disclose a taped interview with a manager of the apartment complex where the murder took place that would have bolstered Cook’s defense, both of which contributed to a violation of Cook’s rights.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will now hear the case. If the court grants Cook a full exoneration, he could be eligible to receive more than $3 million from the state of Texas, along with additional benefits, in compensation for the almost 20 years he spent wrongfully incarcerated on death row.