A Kansas City man, Kevin Strickland, was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders back in the 1970s.
Chapter 1: Finally Free
On Tuesday, November 23, 2021 Strickland finally walked free, having been innocent the whole time, a judge ruled.
Judge James Welsh, a retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, ruled after a three-day evidentiary hearing requested by a Jackson County prosecutor, who said the evidence used to convict Strickland had since been recanted or disproven.
Welsh wrote in his judgment that “clear and convincing evidence” was presented that “undermines the Court’s confidence in the judgment of conviction.” He also noted that no physical evidence linked Strickland to the crime scene and that a key witness recanted her original statement before her death.
“Under these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s convictions is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside,” Welsh wrote, ordering Strickland’s immediate release.
Chapter 2: The Original Conviction
Kevin Strickland was only 18 years old when his entire life changed.
On April 25, 1978, three people were shot and killed in a Kansas City home: Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22.
Strickland says he was at home watching television when the murders happened.
It took two trials to convict him, the first one ending in a hung jury when the only black juror, a woman, said Strickland should be acquitted. In the second trial, an all-white jury decided his fate.
Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the shootings, initially identified Strickland as one of four men who shot the victims. She testified to that during his two trials.
But later, she said she was pressured by police to choose Strickland and tried for years to alert political and legal experts to help her prove she had identified the wrong man, according to testimony during the hearing from her family, friends, and a co-worker. Cynthia Douglas died in 2015.
During the evidentiary hearing, attorneys for the Missouri Attorney General's office argued that there was not a paper trail that proved Douglas tried to recant her identification of Strickland, saying the theory was based on “hearsay, upon hearsay, upon hearsay,”
The judge also noted that two other men convicted in the killings later insisted Strickland wasn’t involved. They named two other suspects who were never charged.
During his testimony, Strickland also denied suggestions that he offered Cynthia Douglas $300 to “keep her mouth shut,” and said he had never visited the house where the murders occurred before they happened.
Chapter 3: 4 Decades in Prison
Being jailed for 4 decades, Strickland lost half of his life to the justice system that wronged him.
“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 will not provide him any compensation for the 43 years he lost," said Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, who stood by Strickland's side as he was released.
Strickland has served the seventh longest wrongful imprisonment acknowledged in American history.
The state only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people exonerated through DNA evidence, so Strickland doesn’t qualify. While he eventually walked away with his freedom, he can never get those 43 years back.
“That is not justice," Bushnell said.
However, a GoFundMe has been started for Kevin Strickland. You can donate to it by clicking here.
Chapter 4: Donations pour in
More than $1.4 million has been raised for a man who spent 43 years behind bars before a judge overturned his conviction in a triple killing, according to the Associated Press. The GoFundMe fundraiser to benefit Kevin Strickland had raised nearly $1.5 million as of Saturday evening.
The state only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people who were exonerated through DNA evidence, so the 62-year-old Strickland wouldn't qualify.