Kerry Max Cook, who spent more than 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a Tyler woman before a plea deal set him free, has sued 22 people and agencies he claims were involved in his wrongful conviction.
But many of those he’s suing are long-dead, and it’s unclear what bearing the statute of limitations will have on the case.
In a 32-page document filed on Monday, Cook contends the law enforcement agencies and officials involved in the case as well as the city of Tyler and Smith County fabricated evidence, concealed exculpatory evidence, coerced false testimony and created false investigative materials to make their case.
Some of the defendants - including Doug Collard, Ronnie Malloch, Gene Carlson and Stewart Dowell, are dead. And others had nothing to do with his case. For example, retired Sheriff J.B. Smith is listed in the lawsuit as having supervised the investigation. But it was a Tyler Police Department investigation and Smith had no involvement.
“All I ever did was house and feed Kerry Max Cook in my jail,” Smith said late Wednesday. “That was not our investigation.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court.
“Based on the ‘sexually deviant’ acts inflicted on the victim, the defendants set out to pin the murder on someone who was homosexual,” the complaint reads. “The defendants believed plaintiff (Cook) was a homosexual and made him their target.”
Cook demands a jury trial in his complaint and seeks compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs and punitive damages against each defendant along with any other relief the court will provide.
He cites 11 counts in his complaint including illegal detention and malicious prosecution, violation of substantive due process, destruction of evidence, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
On June 10, 1977, Linda Jo Edwards, 21, was found dead in her bedroom at a Tyler apartment complex on Old Bullard Road. She had been beaten in the head with a plaster statue, stabbed in the throat, chest and back more than 25 times and sexually mutilated.
Cook was implicated in the crime after his fingerprint was found on Edwards’ patio door. However, he maintains another man was responsible for the crime, James Mayfield, the Texas Eastern University dean of library sciences, with whom Edwards was having an affair.
In his 1978 trial, Cook invoked the Fifth Amendment and did not testify. He did so again in a 1992 retrial, a 1994 retrial and a 1999 grand jury investigation.
Cook, who met Edwards at the apartment complex where they both lived, has always denied he was the killer.
Cook was tried for the crime in 1978, convicted and sentenced to die by a Smith County jury. But the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the case in 1989, because a psychologist had not read Cook his Miranda warning, thus rendering all information in the psychological interview useless.
He was not freed at the time because he remained under indictment for capital murder, and then-Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen took two more tries at convicting Cook.
In 1992, Smith County tried the case, but the jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
In 1994, Cook was found guilty of capital murder, but prosecutors used the testimony of a witness who had died.
The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed that in 1997.
In 1998, as Smith County was moving forward with a fourth trial, Skeen offered Cook a deal that would convict him of murder but would not require him to admit he killed Edwards. In exchange for his plea of no contest, Cook was convicted of murder but sentenced to the time he already served.
He was released from prison in 1999 and has spent decades seeking a full exoneration.
Attorneys representing Cook had argued that six rounds of DNA testing from 1999 to 2015 failed to identify any evidence proving he was at the scene of the crime.
The DNA testing confirmed the presence of semen found in Edwards’ underwear from Mayfield, her boss and former lover whose extramarital affair with Edwards ended badly, the lawyers contend.
Although Mayfield was considered a longtime suspect in the case, he’s never been charged in relation to the crime.
In 2016, a state district judgeset aside Cook’s conviction after Mayfield admitted to previously giving false testimony about when his affair with Edwards ended.
However, visiting Judge Jack Carter, of Texarkana, declined to recommend the state Court of Criminal Appeals approve Cook’s writ of actual innocence.
Defendants in Kerry Max Cook’s Lawsuit
City of Tyler
Current and former Tyler police officers:
Former Tyler Police Chief Ronnie Malloch
Former Texas Department of Public Safety officers:
Marvin T. McLeroy
Former Smith County Sheriff’s Office deputies:
Former Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith
Former Smith County Chief Jailor Gene Carlson
Current Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler
Current Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith
Unknown Tyler police officers
Unknown Smith County Sheriff’s deputies