USA - Texas. Kerry Max Cook exonerated

USA - Kerry Max Cook (TX)

23 June 2024 :

June 19, 2024 - Texas. Kerry Max Cook exonerated
After nearly 47 years, and 20 years spent on death row
On June 19, 2024, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals set aside 68-year-old Kerry Max Cook’s conviction, finding him to be “actually innocent.” Describing Mr. Cook’s case as “one of the most notable murder cases of the last half-century,” the majority opinion explains that “when it comes to solid support for actual innocence, this case contains it all—uncontroverted Brady violations, proof of false testimony, admissions of perjury, and new scientific evidence.” The Death Penalty Information Center has determined that Mr. Cook meets the criteria for inclusion on our exoneration list, making him the 198th person exonerated after being sentenced to death. 
Mr. Cook, who was tried three times, was originally sentenced to death for the 1977 murder of Linda Jo Edwards. His original 1978 conviction was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court and remanded to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which then reversed the conviction in 1991. In 1992, a mistrial was declared during Mr. Cook’s second trial due to the jury’s inability to reach a unanimous verdict. Despite the disclosure of evidence previously withheld during the first trial, Mr. Cook was tried a third time, resulting in a conviction and death sentence in 1994. Once again, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found Mr. Cook’s right to due process was violated, reversed the conviction in 1996, and remanded the case to the trial court. Prior to what would have been his fourth trial in 1999, Mr. Cook pled “no contest” in exchange for a 20-year sentence and was released from prison for time-served. Following an alternate suspect’s recantation of his false testimony, the trial court held hearings regarding a “Stipulation and Settlement Agreement” between the state and Mr. Cook in 2016. On August 16, 2016, the trial court recommended Mr. Cook be granted relief based on the false testimony but found that the new evidence did not prove his innocence. “Marked by bookends of deception spanning over 40 years,” the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has now found Mr. Cook to be innocent.

“The State merely has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—which the State could never achieve in this case. Cook should therefore not have to prove his innocence beyond all doubt,” stated the majority opinion, authored by Judge Bert Richardson. “After being incarcerated on death row for almost twenty torturous years, we hold that Cook has met the burden required for actual innocence and relief is hereby granted.”
Mr. Cook’s case was marred by multiple acts of prosecutorial and police misconduct, including the initial failure of the state to disclose a deal a “jailhouse snitch” received in exchange for testimony – a detail only disclosed 14 years after testimony was provided; the destruction of a human hair containing potentially exculpatory DNA evidence, despite a pending DNA testing request by the defense; and false and misleading testimony by Sargent Collard, deemed a fingerprinting expert, who was pressured by the District Attorney. The opinion outlines the numerous acts of misconduct in the case, stating that “several actions of the State go beyond gross negligence and reach into the realm of intentional deception against the tribunal.”


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