Kerry Max Cook

Kerry Max Cook at Northwestern Law (Photo: Mary Hanlon)

Kerry Max Cook at Northwestern Law (Photo: Mary Hanlon)

Doctor's diagnosis was nearly fatal

Kerry Max Cook was twice convicted and twice sentenced to death for the 1977 murder and mutilation of a 21-year-old secretary in Tyler, Texas.

The first conviction, in 1978, rested primarily on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch who claimed that Cook had confessed. Other witnesses testified that Cook had on occasion peered through the victim's window, watching her undress, and that, shortly before the murder, he had watched a movie depicting the mutilation of a cat.

Dr. James Grigson, a now-infamous Dallas forensic psychiatrist dubbed "Dr. Death" by defense lawyers, testified that Cook had an antisocial personality disorder, virtually assuring that he would kill again. The prosecutor branded Cook a "little pervert," telling the jury: "I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't eat [the victim's] body parts."

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence, but in 1988, with Cook 11 days from execution, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Texas court to review the case. Three years later, that court finally granted Mr. Cook a new trial. After one mistrial, Cook was convicted and sentenced to death a second time in 1994.

Two years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that conviction saying that "prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset." By this time, all of the evidence against Cook had been discredited, largely as a result of a reinvestigation conducted by Centurion Ministries. Prosecutors nonetheless threatened to try him yet again, even though DNA testing contradicted their original theory of the case, strongly suggesting that someone else committed the crime.

Unaware of the DNA results, Cook agreed to plead no contest to a reduced charge of murder in order to avoid another possible death sentence.

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Smith County, Texas
Date of crime: June 10, 1977
Date of arrest: August 5, 1977
Charge: Capital murder
Sentence: Death
Release or exoneration date: February 16, 1999
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 259
Defendant date of birth: April 5, 1957
Defendant race: Caucasian
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record: 1973 auto theft conviction, 1976 criminal mischief conviction
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction:
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes

— Rob Warden