A Kansas City man who was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders was released from prison on Tuesday after a judge ruled he had been wrongfully convicted in 1979.
Kevin Strickland, 62, has always said he was watching TV at home and had nothing to do with the murders, which happened when he was 18. While he was watching a soap opera, he came to know about the decision when the news scrolled across the television screen. He said the prisoners started screaming.
“I’m not necessarily angry. That’s a lot. I think I’ve created feelings that you all don’t know about yet,” he told reporters as he left the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron. ” “Joy, sadness, fear. I’m trying to figure out how to put them together.”
He said he wanted to join efforts to “prevent this from happening to anyone else”, adding that the criminal justice system “needs to be torn down and rebuilt.”
Judge James Welsh, a retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, delivered the ruling after a three-day evidence hearing requested by the Jackson County prosecutor, who either rebutted or denied the evidence used to convict Strickland. had gone.
Welsh wrote in his ruling that “clear and convincing evidence” had been presented that “undermines the Court’s confidence in the conviction.” He said no physical evidence links Strickland to the crime scene and that a key witness made his point before his death.
In the order for Strickland’s immediate release, Welsh wrote, “Under these unique circumstances, the court’s confidence in Strickland’s sentencing has been so diminished that it cannot stand, and the sentencing decision must be set aside.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who pushed for his independence, moved quickly to drop the criminal charges against him so that he could be released.
“To say we are extremely happy and grateful is an understatement,” she said in a statement. “It brings justice – at last – to a man who has suffered so tragically as a result of this wrongful punishment.”
But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt, a Republican running for the US Senate, said Strickland was guilty and had struggled to keep him imprisoned.
“In this case, we defend the rule of law and the decision that a jury of Strickland’s peers made after hearing all the facts in the case,” Schmidt spokesman Chris Nuel said in a brief statement. “The court has said, no further action will be taken in this matter.”
Governor Mike Parson, who denied Strickland’s clemency requests, tweeted simply: “The Court has made its decision, we honor the decision, and the Department of Corrections will proceed immediately with Mr. Strickland’s release.”
Strickland was convicted in the death of Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherry Black, 22, at a home in Kansas City.
The trial of evidence focused primarily on the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the April 25, 1978 shooting. She initially identified Strickland as one of the four men who shot the victims and testified to this during two of her trials.
Welsh wrote that Douglas was skeptical shortly after the conviction, but was “hesitant to take action because she feared that she would face charges of perjury if she publicly repeated statements previously made under oath.” may have to face.”
She later said that police pressured her to select Strickland and tried for years to alert political and legal experts to prove she had identified the wrong man, as did his family, friends. And happened during testimony during a co-worker’s hearing. Douglas died in 2015.
During the hearing, attorneys for the Missouri Attorney General’s office argued that Strickland’s advocates had not provided a paper trail that proved that Douglas tried to replicate his identity of Strickland, adding that the theory ” On hearing, on hearing, on hearing”.
The judge also noted that two other men convicted in the murders later insisted that Strickland was not involved. He named two other suspects who were never charged.
During his testimony, Strickland denied the suggestion that he offered Douglas $300 to “keep his mouth shut” and said he had never been to the house where the murders took place.
Strickland is Black, and her first trial ended in a hung jury when the sole Black juror, a woman, was set out to acquit. After his second trial in 1979, he was convicted by an all-white jury of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
In May, Peters Baker announced that a review of the case had led him to believe that Strickland was innocent.
In June, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear Strickland’s petition.
In August, Peters Baker used a new state law to hold an evidence hearing in Jackson County, where Strickland was convicted. The law allows local prosecutors to challenge the conviction if they believe the defendant did not commit a crime. It was the first time—and only so far—that a prosecutor has used the law to fight a previous conviction.
“Even when the prosecutor is on your side, it took months and months for Mr. Strickland to come home and he still had to come home to a system that would help him make up for the 43 years he lost. Will not compensate,” Tricia Rojo said. Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, who stood by Strickland’s side as soon as he was released.
The state only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people acquitted through DNA evidence, so Strickland does not qualify.
“It’s not justice,” she said. “I think we’re hopeful that people are paying so much attention and are really asking the question, ‘What should our justice system look like?'”