Kerry Max Cook was sentenced to death for the murder of Linda Jo Edwards, a 21-year-old secretary. The murder occurred on June 10, 1977 in Tyler, Texas. Edwards was a college student who was having an affair with her married professor. Cook was arrested in a club where he worked as a bartender. The club was chiefly known as a “gay bar,” and police theorized that Cook was a “degenerate homosexual” who hated women.
Cook was convicted because: (1) A single fingerprint found on the outside of a sliding glass door of Edward's apartment was identified as Cook's. Cook had once been in Edwards’ apartment, but a “fingerprint expert” testified that it was 12 hours old at the time Edwards’ body was found, placing him in the apartment at the time of the murder. This testimony went unquestioned. (2) A witness testified that she had seen Cook in Edwards’ apartment, presumably around the time of the murder. (3) A jailhouse informant testified that he heard Cook confess to the crime. At trial, the prosecutor branded Cook a "little pervert," telling the jury, "I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't eat [the victim's] body parts." At sentencing, Dr. James Grigson, aka "Dr. Death," testified that a person who committed a crime such as Cook's had an antisocial personality disorder, virtually assuring that he would kill again.
Later all the trial evidence was discredited because: (1) The forensic lab technician admitted that it is impossible to date a fingerprint. He said that prosecutors pressured him to give false testimony. (2) It was learned the eyewitness had originally said she saw Edwards’ professor in her apartment rather than Cook. (3) The jailhouse informant recanted his testimony that he heard Cook confess.
The state's highest court threw out Cook's conviction, ruling that the state's “illicit manipulation of the evidence permeated the entire investigation of the murder" and that prosecutors had "gained a conviction based on fraud and ignored its own duty to seek the truth." Cook was freed in November 1997, but only after pleading no contest to a time-served sentence. Cook spent nearly 20 years in prison, 13 of them on death row. After his release Cook married and had a son he named Kerry Justice, saying, “After 23 years, Justice has finally arrived.”
Cook was born in Stuttgart, Germany on April 5, 1956. In 1972, he moved to Texas with his family. Since his release, he has become an activist against the death penalty speaking across the United States and in Europe.
Cook has written a book published by HarperCollins entitled Chasing Justice, which details the story of his wrongful conviction, the widespread prosecutorial abuses which led to the conviction, and his battle to prove his innocence. He was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship to write the book. In his advance blurb of the memoir, former FBI Director and Federal Judge William S. Sessions noted, “Kerry Max Cook has written a brutal but compelling account of his 19 years on Texas’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit. The book depicts his struggles against all odds to free himself from an inept justice system that would not let go, despite mounting and eventually overwhelming evidence of his innocence. What is perhaps most amazing is the grace with which he now lives his life as a free man, determined to prevent others from suffering the horrors he endured.”
Cook is one of six people whose stories were dramatized in the acclaimed play "The Exonerated" written by Eric Jensen and Jessica Blank, which relates how the six had each been wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but were later exonerated and freed after varying years of imprisonment. He often participates in the play. The Exonerated has been made into a film first aired on the Court TV cable television on January 27, 2005.