The third case, in which Richard Wayne Jones was convicted and sentenced to death in Fort Worth in 1987, bothers Cooke to this day.
It contributed to his belief that the death penalty is assessed too liberally in Texas.
Jones, he said, might have been innocent of the crime for which he was executed in 2000.
“Richard claimed innocence forever,” Cooke said. “To be honest, that’s when I started having some doubts about trying capital murder cases. I tended to believe his story. The facts were that he’d been to the penitentiary two or three times. According to his statement [which Jones said was coerced], he decided he was going to kill somebody when he got out.
“He set up a crafts store in Arlington. A petite lady came in to buy yarn so she could knit her brother a sweater. [Jones] picked her out at random. He took her out and raped her and murdered her, then set her on fire.
“When there’s a fire, there is no DNA. So there was no way for the jury to know if he raped her. The jury convicted him. All the way through his appeals, he said he was innocent. An author in England [Wendy Schmid-Eastwood] took up his cause. She wrote a book [“Twisted Truth”] that exerted a lot of influence. She funded his appeal.
“He had the best lawyers, Jack Strickland and Bill Lane at trial level, and I appointed Allan Butcher on appeal. All three were top-notch lawyers who had tried people who were guilty.
“Lane especially did not think he was guilty, and Allan had some real doubts. I got a letter from an inmate saying we were killing the wrong guy, though you always look at those things with a jaundiced eye.
“The case languished a long time [14 years]. Sharon Wilson was the prosecutor. She went to Huntsville for the execution. Richard looked at her and said, ‘Sharon Wilson, you’re killing the wrong man.’ ”
Cooke said he did well by Jones.
“Did I do everything I could? Yeah,” he said. “I’m convinced he had the best lawyers. I did have some doubt [about Jones’ guilt]. I would have been more comfortable if he could have been locked away for life with no parole.”
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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