In 1978 Kerry was twenty-two years of age when he was convicted in state court in Smith County, Texas of a particularly heinous murder. He was sentenced to death. From the start, he insisted he was innocent but prosecutors convinced the jury that he bludgeoned and stabbed a neighbor to death, cut out her genitalia and stuffed them in the leg of one of her stockings.
Each time Kerry’s conviction was reversed on appeal, he went back to prison to await a new trial. The second trial resulted in a mistrial. A third trial resulted in a guilty verdict. That was overturned by an appeals court f0r “egregious prosecutorial misconduct.”
Then, in 1999, Smith County prosecutors offered Kerry a plea deal before what was to be his fourth trial. He had the choice: wait in prison for results from a DNA test or take the plea and be released immediately.
He had been in prison more than 20 years..
Kerry agreed to plead “no contest” in exchange for immediate release.
Weeks later the prosecutors revealed the results of DNA tests on the evidence. The crime was not committed by Kerry.
But Texas refuses to officially exonerate him.
In 2012 Kerry sought to have more DNA tests to prove his innocence and finally have the murder charge dismissed. He also sought to have the case transferred out of Smith County, Texas, where trial-after-trial showed he never had a fair trial.
Michael West, an appellate lawyer in the Smith County district attorney’s office, was not involved in Cook’s previous trials, but questioned Cook’s motives for pursuing his innocence claims more than a decade after he was released from prison.
“To me, it’s suspicious,” he said. “It seems like if I was all fired up and gung ho about being innocent, I wouldn’t have waited so long.”
Of course a prosecutor in Smith County would have no clue what life must have been life for Kerry, released after two decades, with no employment, no assets, the challenges of adjusting to everyday life while carrying an albatross on his shoulders–the burden of what was done to him throughout those years.
If he is exonerated, Kerry Max Cook could apply for compensation for the two decades he spent on death row. He could be eligible for more than $1.5 million in a lump sum payment and a monthly annuity equal to the same amount over the course of his life.
Kerry told the Texas Tribune didn’t care about the money. He would waive the compensation if the county would simply declare his innocence.
“Between money and justice, I’ll take justice,” he said.
Financing the legal battle is a major reason why it took Kerry so long for him to pursue the next step in proving his innocence.
Kerry is married now and has a son named Kerry Justice (the only justice he had in Texas, he wrote in his memoir, Chasing Justice).