Monday, May 21, 2012

'Two Decades on Death Row, 15 Years in Limbo: Kerry Max Cook's Struggle for Justice'

Kerry Cook with Robin Williams, via Forbes.
Forbes has a story with the same headline in this post detailing the saga of Kerry Max Cook's three and a half decade struggle to clear his name from a completely false capital murder conviction which DNA evidence has since debunked. Read it.

Cook recently lost an effort to get the venue for his habeas writ changed out of Smith County, where a Tyler police sergeant had actually carried off some of the evidence from his case as a souvenir. He was devastated, understandably believing it's essentially impossible for him to get justice in my hometown as long as the current crop of judges and prosecutors rules the political roost there and the local media is in the can for them (and they are). I understand Cook's pessimism - after the roller coaster ride he's been on (three capital murders trials for a crime he didn't commit!), it would be nearly impossible not to become pessimistic, and it's a testament to my fellow Tylerite's gumption that he's still fighting 35 years after his life was stolen from him. But Grits is slightly more sanguine about his chances because, as America's second President John Adams put it, "facts are stubborn things," and this time around it's the DA confronted with, in the lawyer's lingo, extraordinarily "bad facts." DNA evidence - not tested until after Cook's plea deal to escape death row - demolished the prosecution's theory of his guilt. If the additional DNA testing he's seeking confirms that finding, as expected, I'd like to believe we've reached the point where Cook can be exonerated, even in Smith County. We'll see, won't we?

Relatedly, I recently ran across this commentary from Kerry last year on the passing of Randall Dale Adams, arguably the first among modern exonerees, whose story was exposed by the documentary, The Thin Blue Line. A couple of notable quotes from that missive: "Death row was a lot of things, but most of all, it was a wild and crazy place, a hate factory and an austere human repository warehousing every conceivable mental and emotional disorder known to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)." And another: "Randall's ordeal with Texas officials and the fight to clear his name and be recognized was so grueling and intense; he left public life and moved back to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio where he died" in 2010.

Having now been privileged to meet so many Texas exonerees - including several, like Kerry (not yet formally an exoneree, but closer than ever) who spent years on death row - one element folks probably can't appreciate from afar is the personal toll the ordeal takes on these individuals, who are then expected to take on roles as spokesmen, public figures with no training or background to prepare them for a media environment that even professionals find dizzying and baffling. And for those who haven't received compensation, like Kerry, they must simultaneously struggle to make ends meet in a world where many still consider them murderers, rapists, etc.. Kerry Max Cook has handled that grueling process better than most, many times essentially on his own. But the DNA evidence, not to mention recent court rulings, arguably make his position much more favorable now than in it was in the 1990s when he pled to capital murder for time served to avoid a fourth trial - at least unless Smith-County good-ol-boyism somehow gets in the way.

If his writ were being heard in Dallas or Houston, I'd say it would be a slam dunk. But Tyler ain't Dallas or Houston. Good luck, Kerry.


Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. Just the other day in relation to the DeLuna story we were informed with authority that "Anyone who thinks that the police and prosecutors relish the chance to railroad an innocent person into the death chamber is deranged".

Yet here is a story in which it appears that not one, not two, not three, but four(!) DAs (and Lord knows how many policemen) busted their asses to railroad an innocent person into the death chamber. They collectively tried four times before they saw where this was going to end up, then quit right before they would have had to admit their oopsie.

Grits, I'm sorry, but the only conclusion I can draw from this is that you must be super duper deranged.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon 1:17, that was not me and wasn't even in the post - that was another anonymous commenter like yourself.

Note to all Anons: Please adopt pen names for use on this blog (click on Name/URL, even if you don't have a Google account.) Do it for me. Do it in O. Henry's honor. Honestly, not only can't I tell who's' talking to or about whom, I'm pretty sure y'all cannot, either. Anonymity is fine, but it needn't inhibit clarity.

As to your conclusory sentence, what was that Billy Joel song? "You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you're looking for." :)

Anonymous said...

No offense intented - I know it was in the comments and the sarcasm in my post was directed toward that particular poster, not at you.

Just another that it's difficult to get context across in an internet post. Oh for the days when people actually talked to each other instead of typing at each other.

I apologize for the confusion I caused.

A Texas PO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Texas PO said...

I enjoyed the line in the article about how the blood at the scene was not tested because it was "the same color as the rest of the blood." Really? Are there that many people walking around with different-colored blood? If that was the logic used in these types of cases in the '70s, then I sure am glad I wasn't gracing this state with my present back then. Holy hell, this whole case gives me the willies. Good luck, Mr. Cook. Make sure you sue those bastards for every dime they think they're worth.

ckikerintulia said...

How long before Texas, and perhaps the nation via SCOTUS--SCOTUS will either have to have some spiritual conversions or the court will have to have a new makeup before that could happen--how long until powers that be recognize that the risks in capital punishment are simply not worth any supposed benefits of executing someone, even if it's the wrong someone. A long time I fear.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who responds to this post with such sarcasm has never lived in Smith County.