Friday, March 02, 2012

Kerry Max Cook seeks DNA testing, formal exoneration

Though I was 12 years old when Kerry Max Cook was convicted of capital murder for the first time in my home town of Tyler, I have no recollection of the original events or trial. As an adult working in the innocence movement these last few years, however, I know his case as almost iconic, tainted by flawed forensics, tunnel vision and extreme prosecutorial misconduct. After his third trial and death penalty sentence, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction declaring that, "“Prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset.”

Now, more than a decade after his release from Texas death row, Cook has filed a Chapter 64 postconviction DNA testing motion "to start the ball rolling to get Cook eventually declared actually innocent," reports Michael Hall of Texas Monthly who provides an excellent, extended analysis of the case in a TM blog post.

Bizarrely, prosecutors from my home town say they're puzzled why Cook would seek formal exoneration so many years after he was sprung from death row. Just for starters, I'd say it's because Jack Skeen and David Dobbs smeared him six ways from Sunday over the course of two decades while ignoring the man who DNA evidence and an investigation by the indefatigable Centurion Ministries say is likely the real killer. More immediately, Texas recently increased compensation for men exactly in Cook's position who were victimized by false convictions. And during the 2011 session, the Texas Legislature amended the post-conviction DNA testing statute to eliminate most grounds for prosecutors to object to testing. So it makes perfect sense to me why this is happening now. Indeed, if the Tyler Telegraph or Smith County prosecutors wonder why Cook is seeking exoneration, they could have just asked him. Hall did, and his post concludes with Cook's reasoning:
Cook’s case is a deeply tragic one. He was one of the first of the modern wave of men to be freed after years of wrongful imprisonment. And yet Cook never experienced a profound public vindication. He never got to raise his arms high as he was cheered leaving the courthouse—like Morton recently did. He doesn’t get millions of dollars in compensation from the state for those wasted years—like the others do. He doesn’t have a brotherhood of fellow exonerees—like the men in Dallas have. He isn’t even, technically, an exoneree.

Every day I fight against the darkest depression imaginable,” he says, “because of what Smith County did to me and continued to do to me for 35 years. First there was the horror of my prison experience as an innocent man, then my fate when I was freed, which in some ways was almost as bad. I developed severe PTSD. I was forced to move five times by people who found out about my past. Kids won’t play with my son because they find out he’s the son of a man who was on death row. My wife and I–we have no insurance. I can’t get an apartment, I can’t get a real job. It’s been unbelievable. Nobody knows what it’s like. It’s like I’m behind another set of bars. I’m not free.

“I want the official exoneration. I want what Ernest Willis and Tim Cole and Michael Morton got. I deserve it. It’s my turn.”
This case represents one of the darkest moments in the history of my hometown's criminal justice system, though the saddest part is that, as bad as Cook's case was, there's still substantial competition for that "darkest" label. I know Cook sometimes visits this blog, so let me be the first here to say "good luck"; if anybody deserves ultimate vindication after traumas worthy of Job, it's Kerry Max Cook.

MORE: From Michael Hall at TM Daily Post, see "What the Tyler Morning Telegraph failed to tell you about Kerry Max Cook." Though lets face it, it would be more than a full-time job trying to plug in all the gaps that the Telegraph "failed to tell" its readers, though I understand wanting to make an exception in this instance.


Anonymous said...

Off topic but a damn good...

3 cups water
3/4 cup grits
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
garlic powder (optional)
1/4 stick butter

(Note: I only use old-fashioned, slow-cookin' grits. None of that instant glop. I won't let that mess inside my kitchen.)


1) Bring the water to a boil, add the salt and stir in the grits.

2) Turn the heat down very low and cook the grits for 20 minutes. Give it a good stir every five minutes or so.

3) After 20 minutes, add the parsley. This will give it additional flavor and a nice hit of color. If you like, you can also stir in a teeny pinch of garlic powder.

4) Cook 5 more minutes and remove from the heat. Immediately stir in the blue cheese and the butter and stir till both the cheese and the butter are all melted. The grits will have a nice creamy consistency.

5) Dig in and pig out. You got yourself some slammin' grits!

Don said...

Off topic? Gee, ya think, Paula? Grits, it is astounding that they are "puzzled". Good Grief!

Hook Em Horns said...

This is, perhaps, the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have seen in Texas. Kerry's case is still taught and discussed at UT. I hope he is successful in this pursuit.

rodsmith said...

i'm with you all i'd think a statement like this

"After his third trial and death penalty sentence, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction declaring that, "“Prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset.”

Would have been an AUTOMATIC ruling of innocense! with an automatic check with a LOT OF ZERO'S

Anonymous said...

Jack Skeen wasted no time getting his propaganda machine in motion. As a judge he can't talk about the case but he made sure the Tyler paper interviewed David Dobbs. There are several things in the article from Dobbs that are outright lies, but of course the Tyler paper isn't going to question anything he says. The article doesn't even mention that there has already been a DNA test done in the case that pointed towards Mayfield.

It's going to be interesting to watch this play out. Skeen will be working the local press to spin everything and try to keep his voters in the dark. Just like the Mineola case the story will seem like a completely different story in the Tyler paper than in other sources outside of Smith County, such as Texas Monthly. It's going to be fun to watch.

I'm hoping this is the beginning of the end for Skeen and his Smith County political machine.

Vicki Johnston said...

Kerry, his wife Sandy, and his son, K.J. have been part of the Robert Muller School community for two years. The prosecuting attorneys’ sustained and repeated determination to use treacherous lies, and induce others to do the same, in order to convict an innocent fellow human, even to cause his death through our penal system, is beyond the grasp of the human heart. My concern, as the founding/director of the Robert Muller School, is how children grow up to be such perverted versions of humanity. These conspirators’ behavior exemplifies everything we don’t want our children to become.
On the other hand, the account of Kerry’s steadfast courage, determination, resourcefulness, forgiving spirit and ability to stand the ‘eighth time after seven falls’, in the midst of the horrors brought to light in Chasing Justice, is the stuff of heroes. As one who knows the hunger of current generations for Heroes of the Heart, it affords me the greatest joy to see Kerry in the front field of RMS playing with, counseling, encouraging loving, and guiding our children who adore him. I thank God for him, our own living, breathing example of an exemplary human, who is emerging victorious in the battle with the minions of darkness.

We love you, Kerry."

LLR said...

If you haven't read "Chasing Justice" by Kerry Max Cook I highly recommend that you do. Extremely well written, I couldn't put it down until the end. His case was one of the travesties of the "justice" system in Texas. Horrifying one realizes that any of us could be slammed in prison for years while being completely innocent. I hope and pray that he can be exonerated and receive financial damages for time served etc. Read the book!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see a court of inquiry on both this case and the Mineola Swingers case.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Mr. Cook, you my friend are welcome to your own PNG Guest Blogger mini-column anytime you are ready. As always, we'll continue to rec. any & all "Cook-Books" you produce.

Regardless of the avenue(s) you persue in this never-ending healing process, please continue to speak out. I'm sure that Grits will continue to keep us updated on the progress & players. Thanks.