HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Kerry Max Cook

The Death Row Texas Inmate Who Cleared His Own Name


  • The Inequities of Capital Punishment as a Human Rights Violation Against the Convicted Innocent
  • Learning How to Cope with Today's Adversities - Using the Tools That Enabled Cook to Overcome the Worst Death Row in America
  • The Power of Forgiveness: The Mental and Emotional Healing Power of Surrendering to Forgiveness
  • How to Teach Others the Empowering Principal of Believing in Oneself


North Carolina

Kerry Cook was an innocent man who became one of the longest tenured death row prisoners in U.S. history to be freed. Cook served over 20 years in Texas’ notorious death house for a 1977 rape and murder he did not commit. His innocence was investigated and then documented by an outside non-profit New Jersey based organization founded by James McCloskey named Centurion Ministries. Cook’s story is remarkably told in his critically acclaimed memoir Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn’t Commit.The book received the 2008 PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award, from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Cook’s historical legal sage was documented by The Dallas Morning News in numerous award-winning, front-page investigative articles, beginning with the headline, “Inmate Was Railroaded.” the Dallas Morning News would go on to win the Texas Bar Association’s prestigious “Silver Gavel Award” for their journalistic investigative work from 1988 until 1992.

The loudest shout of all would be indisputable DNA scientific evidence, coupled with the public record of egregious police and prosecutorial misconduct that spanned 22 years and nearly four criminal trials, which excluded Cook as the semen donor and exonerated him. His story is known as the worst example of police and prosecutorial misconduct in Texas history.

Cook currently serves as a Senior Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute, an author, a lecturer, a lobbyist, and father. As a lobbyist, Cook was active in the 77th Texas Legislature seeking to bring about reform in the criminal justice system.

Cook lectures both nationally and internationally on a variety of topics, ranging from the inequities of Capital Punishment as a human rights violation against the convicted innocent, to teaching others how to overcome adversity and loss. He has lent his expertise before the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, France, and addressed the legal organization Amicus in London, England, which are Barristers in training to become future American death penalty litigators. His wrongful imprisonment is one of six stories told in The Exonerated, which was an acclaimed off-Broadway play and was later adapted into an original Court TV movie of the same name.

Each year, Cook and his son travel to Switzerland. There he serves as a role model and guest-speaker to teenagers attending Junior Leadership University, funded by the Young President's Organization (YPO).

Praise for Chasing Justice

“Kerry Max Cook is a remarkable human being, and his memoir, Chasing Justice, is captivating. He has written a first-hand account of the time he spent in the darkest corridors of America for a crime he did not commit. What distinquishes Kerry and makes him so exceptional is his ability to motivate others to believe in themselves and overcome adversity in their daily lives regardless of their background or life experience. His lack of bitterness from his ordeal coupled with his wit make him a powerful teacher. His story transcends common barriers such as culture, religion and socioeconomic status. His message is universal and he tells it simply and with dignity.”

—Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

“Kafkaesque. . . . . Cook’s story is so gripping that only a heart of steel won’t break after reading it.”                                                                                                  


“Kafka-esque. . . . That he survived is astounding; the circumstances that finally freed him by means of DNA evidence are nearly miraculous.”

Texas Monthly

“The incredible story of this enforced visit to hell and back is a modern day version of Dante’s Inferno and Kafka’s Trial. But it is an actual first-person account told in a compelling manner by its victim. The devils are the police and prosecutors who framed Kerry Cook and almost got away with it. Read it and do something to make certain that these kinds of preventable injustices do not persist in our highly imperfect criminal system.”                                                     

—Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School

“Cook’s accounts are clear, concise and descriptive, and his words never cease to astound, even for a reader who thought he knew much of the story. . . Like Ishmael, Kerry Max Cook has lived to tell the tale. But it is a story written, and lived, at great cost.”

Houston Chronicle

“Kerry Max Cook has written a brutal but compelling account of his 22 years on Texas’ death row for a murder he didn’t commit. The book depicts his struggles against all odds to free himself from an inept justice system that would not let go, despite mounting and eventually overwhelming evidence of his innocence. What is perhaps most amazing is the grace with which he now lives his life as a free man, determined to prevent others from suffering the horrors he endured.”

—William S. Sessions, former FBI Director and federal judge

“I dare you to read this book. The details of Kerry Cook’s life are so outrageously awful and unfair that some may not allow themselves to know his story or else they will have to face their own appalling indifference to injustice. Reading this book will allow you to learn of a man who prevailed in a situation that was an unending nightmare and came out an inspiring human being.”

—Richard Dreyfuss