It's not like we couldn't have seen this one coming...
Link to article in Tyler Morning Telegraph: Kerry Max Cook files lawsuit seeking damages related to previous conviction in Tyler murder case
On the one hand, as a person who actually cares about justice, I should be happier about this. After all, this gives Kerry Max Cook another opportunity to stick it to local officials who railroaded him over and over again and sent him to death row, where he spent 20 years. But on the other hand, I'm not that happy. Win or lose, this is going to cost the taxpayers of Tyler and Smith County assloads of money. Think about this: Smith County recently paid out around $46,000 in legal fees to some local yahoo attorneys to defend Joel Baker and the county clownishioners against misdemeanor charges for Texas Open Meetings Act violations. This Kerry Max Cook thing is very complex and is going to take place in federal court. So, of course, the city and county are going to have to outsource their defense to private-practice attorneys who actually know what they are doing. I'm predicting that the cost of legal representation for the county and city is going to be in the hundreds of thousands.
But if Cook prevails, I can only imagine what the judgment will be. Hell, plaintiffs have gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a few days of wrongful incarceration. Cook was on death row for 20 years and was brutalized and repeatedly raped during that time! Lets see--monetary damages plus pain-and-suffering type of stuff plus punitive damages...and we would also have to pay Cook's legal fees if he won. Millions? Are the county and city insured against this kind of thing? Even worse, a win by Cook could open the litigation door for a multitude of other plaintiffs who have been wronged by Smith County's prosecution machine. Hmm...can anyone else think of a recent case in which--possibly for political reasons--a person was wrongfully accused and maliciously prosecuted for a crime he didn't commit?
Why you should be angry
Maybe you are thinking this is just the "cost of doing business" in a community that is "tough on crime." I assert that this could have been avoided. Three generations of prosecutors have had the opportunity to carefully consider the merits of this case, and have failed to do the right thing. Let's review the history of this case:
- In 1977, the Tyler Police Department could have actually done a competent investigation by carefully considering the possibility that the most obvious suspect, James Mayfield, might have actually been the murderer.
- In the first trial in 1978, District Attorney A.D. Clark III (currently married to District Judge Carole Clark) could have questioned the merits of the case, that was based largely on questionable forensic evidence, a bogus psychological evaluation, and the testimony of a jailhouse snitch. He could have had a heart-to-heart talk with the chief of police and demanded that Tyler PD take another look at James Mayfield. (The 1978 conviction was overturned, by the way.)
- After the 1992 retrial, which ended in a mistrial, District Attorney Jack Skeen Jr. might have considered whether the case against Cook was legitimate. Instead, he went after Cook again, and...
- In 1994, Skeen prosecuted Cook again, but that conviction was overturned. At that point you would think Skeen would have had a "Here's your sign!" moment and put an end to this madness once and for all.
- In Cook's FOURTH trial in 1998, Skeen and his underling, prosecutor David Dobbs could have waited until DNA test results--which would have almost certainly exonerated Cook--were available. Instead, they strong-armed the frightened Cook into accepting a plea deal that released him from prison, but left him branded a convicted murderer.
- In 2016, your current District Attorney, Matt Bingham, could have done the right thing and sought justice for Cook, making him eligible for compensation from the state for the 20 years he spent on death row. But Bingham was more interested in protecting his predecessors, including David Dobbs and Jack Skeen. So he finagled a deal with Cook's attorneys in which the charges would be dropped, but the prosecutors' misconduct in the previous trials would never see the light of day in open court.
District Attorney Matt Bingham
(Must have been out with the flu the day they went over Art. 2.01 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in law school.)
Art. 2.01. DUTIES OF DISTRICT ATTORNEYS. Each district attorney shall represent the State in all criminal cases...It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.
This could have ended long ago. But instead of examining facts and doing what was rational and just, three generations of prosecutors have put their efforts into covering their tracks, concealing their misdeeds, and protecting their predecessors.
And you're going to pay for it, sheeple of Tyler and Smith County.