KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) – A Kansas City man who has been jailed for more than 40 years for three murders was wrongly convicted in 1979 and will be released, a Missouri judge said Tuesday.
Kevin Strickland, 62, has always maintained that he was at home watching television and had nothing to do with the murders that happened when he was 18.
Judge James Welsh, a retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, ruled after a three-day hearing requested by a Jackson County prosecutor who said evidence used to convict Strickland had been retracted or refuted since his conviction in 1979.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has fought efforts by Jackson County District Attorney Jean Peters Baker and other legal and political leaders to free Strickland. Schmitt, a Republican candidate for the US Senate, said Strickland was guilty. Governor Mike Parson declined Strickland’s requests for pardon.
Strickland was convicted of the death of Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22, in a Kansas City home.
Hearing of the evidence largely focused on the previous testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the shooting of April 25, 1978. She first identified Strickland as one of four men who shot at the victims and testified to them in both trials.
But she later said she had been pressured by the police to choose Strickland and that she had tried for years to alert political and legal experts to help her prove she had identified the wrong man, according to testimonies from family, friends and a colleague at the hearing. Douglas died in 2015.
During the hearing, attorneys for the Missouri attorney general’s office argued that attorneys for Strickland had not provided any written record to prove that Douglas attempted to retract his identification from Strickland, claiming the theory was based on “Hearsay, hearsay, hearsay”,
Two other men convicted of the murders later insisted Strickland was not at the scene of the crime, the Kansas City Star reported. They named two other suspects, who were never charged.
During his testimony, Strickland denied suggestions that he offered Douglas $ 300 to “keep his mouth shut,” and said he had never visited the house where the murders took place before. they don’t happen.
Strickland is black, and his first trial ended with a suspended jury when the only black juror, a female, demanded an acquittal. 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 her to believe Strickland was innocent.
In June, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear Strickland’s petition.
In August, Peters Baker used a new state law to request a hearing of evidence in Jackson County, where Strickland was sentenced. The law allows local prosecutors to challenge convictions if they believe the accused did not commit the crime. It was the first time – and so far the only time – that a prosecutor had used the law to challenge a previous conviction.
The hearing was repeatedly delayed by motions filed by Schmitt’s office, one of which successfully argued for all judges in the 16th Circuit, which includes Jackson County, to be disqualified from the hearings, citing a letter in which the circuit president said he agreed Strickland should be exonerated. Welsh was then appointed to chair the hearing.