Texas court overturns conviction, frees man who spent nearly 20 years on death row for 1977 murder case

Texas courts have upheld a man’s 1977 murder conviction after he spent nearly 20 years on death row.

“Judge Bert Richardson wrote a scathing opinion in court, accusing authorities of misconduct and calling for the conviction of petitioner Kerry Cook to be overturned. The court opinion, delivered on a Wednesday, emphasized that the favorable evidence to Cook were hidden, and that some of the evidence presented at his first trial in 1978, which turned out to be fabricated.

The case, which spanned three trials and various appeals, even reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, alleged that Cook was responsible for the 1977 rape, murder and mutilation of Edwards in Tyler, Texas. Edwards’ roommate, Paula Rudolph, discovered his lifeless body in her bedroom, and Cook, a neighbor, became a prime suspect due to matching fingerprints found on Edwards’ sliding patio door.

However, scientific analysis and expert testimony have discredited the claim that the fingerprints on the patio door were fresh.

Cook was originally sentenced to death in 1979, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. The second trial, in 1992, ended in a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The third trial, in 1994, resulted in a new conviction and a death sentence, which was later overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1996 due to police and prosecutorial misconduct.

In 1999, DNA tests on Edwards’ underwear did not match Cook’s.

Edward Scott Jackson, an inmate at the Smith County Jail and a key witness in Cook’s first trial, testified that Cook confessed to the murder. However, Jackson later recanted his statement, admitting that he had lied in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Before the fourth trial in 1999, the state offered Cook a plea deal for murder. Sentenced to 20 years in prison and credited for time served, Cook was released. Yet his conviction held.

Despite everything, Cook maintained his innocence and has now been officially declared innocent of Edwards’ murder.

“Kerry endured an immense ordeal for nearly 50 years, and there is no way to restore what was lost,” Glenn Garber, one of Cook’s attorneys, said in a statement to CNN.

“This decision vindicates its name and exposes the state’s relentless and egregious misconduct,” Garber added. “It is crucial that the people of Tyler, Smith County and around the world understand this injustice and realize that this is still a disturbing witch hunt by state officials.”

CNN attempted to contact the office of Smith County Prosecutor Jacob Putman for comment, who took office in 2019. The appeals court ruling said it did not hold current prosecutors accountable past events in this case.

At 68, Cook is one of at least 199 people who have been falsely convicted and sentenced to death since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment remains legal in 27 states. »

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