Kerry Max Cook,
Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After
Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn't Commit

(William Morrow, 2007)

Kerry Max Cook met young Linda Edwards in 1977 and was invited back to her apartment for a drink, where he left his fingerprints on the sliding glass door. Four days later, Edwards was found brutally murdered, and Cook was immediately arrested for the crime.

In one of the worst examples of police and prosecutorial misconduct in American history, Cook was put to trial with coached prosecutorial witnesses, bunk expert testimony about the "age" (6 to 12 hours) of the fingerprint, and suppressed evidence that would have favored the defense. The state declared that Cook was a repressed homosexual (at a time when homosexuality was a mental illness, and in rural Texas, no less) who raped and butchered a female out of repressed rage -- a theory, incredibly, they stuck to even during re-trials two decades later, in the 1990s!

Chasing Justice is the story of the framing of Kerry Max Cook by the Texas justice system. The narrative was written in Kerry's own hand (1,200 pages at first draft) and condensed into a powerfully personal 350-page account of life on death row -- desperation, abandonment, rape and sodomy, stabbings and attempted suicide. The prose isn't depressing; rather, Cook just fights on, always waiting for the next turn, building his cadre of supporters.

Texas death row has been ruled in federal court to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Cook fought for a full two decades for his freedom, through three outrageous trials, with not a penny to his name. While the major Dallas newspaper was decrying the railroading of an innocent man, he was convicted again and again and again. To date, he is still not eligible for reparations from the state of Texas because he has not been officially pardoned, which would require the unanimous concurrence of several bureaucratic offices unwilling to admit their culpability in the grave trespass of justice. (By the way, the state spent between $5 million and $7 million over two decades in its effort to execute Cook.)

The reader will question: Why Cook? In his book, the author does not devote his energies to answering why, rather, he uses his energy to fight. From some brief research on the case, I have determined that the real culprit hired a very expensive, well-connected good ol' boy lawyer, requiring the police to find another suspect to satisfy the anger of the community. I can only begin to wonder how the Texas justice system conspired for 20 years to keep an innocent man behind bars. During each of his three trials, judges continually approved motions by the prosecutor and denied those of the defense, even to the point at which the court had contradicted itself on which evidence should be suppressed or allowed and for what reason!

Kerry Max Cook's remarkable story is a damning indictment of the death penalty and the Texas justice system. Right before the publication of his memoir, national crime show Body of Evidence: From the Case Files of Dayle Hinman featured forensic experts "solving" the Edwards murder based on false evidence from the prosecution. Even 10 years after Cook's exoneration in the national eye, misinformation is still being spread by those in power. Kerry Max Cook's experiences should serve as clear warning not to blindly accept the word of authority.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

30 May 2009

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