TYLER, Texas (CN) – Former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook, wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape and murder in East Texas decades ago, claims in a federal lawsuit that it’s time for police officers who investigated the case to pay for their extreme misconduct, including fabricating evidence and coercing witness testimony.
According to the complaint filed Monday in Tyler, Texas federal court, Cook spent more than 20 years in prison for the 1977 rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards in Tyler.
He was released in 1999 and his conviction was vacated in 2016, after prosecutors acknowledged that the evidence against him was lacking and that his due-process rights had been violated.
“[Cook’s] four-decade nightmare was finally over, but for the wounds from that fight for his life that will remain open for the rest of his life,” the complaint states. “His ordeal can only be described as a horror.”
Cook was raped and sodomized dozens of times while in prison, according to the suit, and he attempted to commit suicide more than once. He maintained in one suicide note, “I really was an innocent man.”
Sentenced to death, Cook lived every day with the fear that he would be executed for someone else’s crime.
Cook’s attorney, Anand Swaminathan from the Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, told Courthouse News that there’s nothing that can give his client back the 40 years of his life he spent as a person wrongfully convicted. But Anand said the lawsuit, if successful, may act as a deterrent to prevent these types of investigations and convictions from happening in the future.
“Kerry has dedicated his life to spreading the word about this kind of misconduct, because, ultimately Kerry’s case is an egregious case … but it is not isolated,” Swaminathan said. “This kind of misconduct needs to stop.”
On the morning of June 10, 1977, Edwards was found in dead in her bedroom at the Embarcadero Apartments in Tyler. She had been stabbed more than 20 times and parts of her body were missing.
In his complaint, Cook says he was convicted on the basis of a “homosexual witch-hunt” by investigators, who determined that, because of the gruesome nature of the attack, it must have been perpetrated by a “deviant homosexual.”
Police became convinced Cook fit the bill, because he had spent time working at gay nightclubs in Dallas, and had been temporarily staying with a gay acquaintance at the same apartment complex where the murder occurred, according to the lawsuit.
The only shred of physical evidence ever tying Cook to the crime was a fingerprint on a door in Edward’s apartment — evidence that, according to Cook, was easily explained by the fact that Edwards had invited him into her apartment a few days before she was murdered.
A former Tyler police sergeant, defendant Doug Collard, originally testified that the fingerprint had been placed there around the time of Edwards’ murder, but conceded years later that his testimony had been “completely outside the realm of sound and supported forensic science,” according to the complaint.
While constructing their case on bogus fingerprint evidence, police allegedly ignored evidence pointing to Edwards’ disgruntled ex-lover James Mayfield.
“[Police] were willing to essentially ignore all of the obvious evidence pointing to the victim’s lover and instead searched until they found somebody that fit their profile,” Swaminathan said.
Edwards’ roommate had reported immediately after the murder that she saw Mayfield in the victim’s bedroom the night she was murdered.
Mayfield had just been fired from his university job because of his extramarital affair with Edwards, who was his secretary, and was reported to have possessed a law enforcement treatise on sex crimes containing examples of sexual mutilation similar to what was done to the victim, according to the complaint.
In 2016, Mayfield admitted that he had sex with the victim the day before her murder, and that he had given false and perjurious trial testimony leading to Cook’s conviction.
DNA evidence established that semen from Mayfield was found on Edwards’ underwear.
Mayfield has not been charged or convicted, the lawsuit notes.
The complaint also claims that police recruited jailhouse snitches to give false testimony implicating Cook in the murder, and produced a “series of false and fraudulent police reports” which they included in the case file.
Cook is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the harm that Tyler police officers and Smith County sheriff’s deputies caused as a result of their “egregious misconduct.”
“There’s another victim here,” Swaminathan said. “It’s Linda Jo Edwards and her family, because the person that committed this crime has gone free and that’s a sad and scary thing.”
Neither the Tyler Police Department nor the Smith County Sheriff’s Office immediately responded Thursday to phone calls requesting comment.