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Wednesday, November 12, 1997

Former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook freed after 20 years

By MARK BABINECK / Associated Press Writer

TYLER, Texas (AP) -- Wearing a charcoal suit and carrying his possessions in three bags, former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook used his first moments of freedom in two decades Tuesday to hug his crying mother and thank his lawyer.

Cook, on death row most of the last 20 years for the murder of a Tyler secretary, was freed on $100,000 bond to await a fourth trial for the same crime.

"It's an out-of-body experience. It really is," Cook, 41, said.

His mother, Evelyn Cook, was equally elated.

"I'm walking on cloud nine. You don't have any idea," she said. "Now is the greatest time since he's been born."

Smith County prosecutors had asked Visiting State District Judge Robert Jones to increase the $100,000 bond set last week to $500,000.

"The bare facts of this case, regardless of any comparison with any other case, cry out for reconsideration of the amount and the terms and conditions of bond," prosecutor Edward Marty wrote in a nine-page motion.

A hearing on the motion to increase the bond was set for Nov. 21. In the meantime, Cook was allowed to post bond and leave Smith County Jail in the company of attorney Paul Nugent and Jim McCloskey, executive director of Centurion Ministries Inc.

Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, N.J.-based prisoner advocacy group that believes Cook was wrongly convicted, posted his bond.

"We have a lot of confidence in Kerry and his innocence," McCloskey said.

Cook's saga began in 1977, when 21-year-old Linda Jo Edwards was found beaten, stabbed and sexually mutilated in an apartment she shared with a friend.

A former bartender, Cook was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1978. He later received a reversal, and a 1991 retrial ended with a hung jury. A third trial in 1994 ended in Cook's conviction and another death sentence.

Last November, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Cook's conviction, ruling that prosecutors hid evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court last month let the reversal stand, clearing the way for a fourth trial tentatively scheduled for next fall.

Chief felony prosecutor David Dobbs said Tuesday he could not comment because of a gag order.

After his release, Cook briefly greeted Andrew Lee Mitchell, another former death row inmate from Tyler who spent 13 years on death row. Mitchell, who has been free on bond for four years while awaiting a new trial, said he wanted to offer support to Cook.

"I know how it is walking through those doors after all that time," Mitchell said.

Cook described his time on death row as "very traumatic. Very painful. A nightmare." But he says he's looking forward to spending time in Jacksonville with his family, eating a pizza with everything on it and getting to work. Without being specific, he said he has lined up a job that involves computers.

When asked how he could have kept up with the technology over the past 20 years, he noted, "I've been using a typewriter. I've been typing a lot of letters to my lawyers."

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