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After 23 Years, A Missouri Inmate Is Waiting To See If He'll Get A Final Chance At Freedom

The Midwest Innocence Project
Ricky Kidd has been in prison for 23 years for a double murder he says he didn't commit. Kidd told KCUR he's hopeful he will get a chance at a new trial.

After decades in prison for a 1996 double murder in Kansas City, Missouri, he says he didn't commit, Ricky Kidd said he has a new hope.

"For the first time in 23 years, I feel like I had my day in court," he told KCUR over the phone from Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron, Missouri.

His renewed hope comes after a recent, long-awaited hearing for a civil lawsuit against the state, which claims that Kidd's custody is illegal because his conviction was illegally obtained.

It was originally scheduled to happen before a Jackson County Circuit Judge in July 2017, but was delayed by the Missouri Supreme Court after then Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley argued the case should be argued in Dekalb County, not Jackson.

So, Kidd was sent back to Crossroads Correctional with no idea when he'd get another chance.

"It was devastating," he said. "For a minute, I slipped on a bunch of marbles and I hit the floor hard, metaphorically. I was tired of telling my family I'm coming home, I'm not coming home; this is the time, this isn't the time."

There's a thousand ways a prisoner in Ricky's position can lose a case, and there's only one way to win. We need the judge to find that.

In April, he finally got that hearing. Sean O'Brien, one of Kidd's attorneys, said it was his last chance to prove his innocence.

O'Brien and attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project argued that his original defense lawyer was unable to present a complete defense because the state withheld testimony, and further, that she was not invited to the depositions at the time. They also questioned a key eyewitness of the state who, at the April hearing, recanted his identification of Kidd as the murderer. 

O'Brien said that is huge.

"He was the only witness who came to trial and pointed at Ricky Kidd and said, 'That's the guy.' Now he's completely unbelievable," he said.

Numerous eyewitnesses to the crimes said three assailants murdered the two men, but the state only charged Kidd and one other person and has not explained the discrepancy.

The state, represented by Assistant Attorney General Michael Spillane, continues its fight to keep Kidd in prison. Spillane told KCUR he would not comment on the case, due to pending litigation, but he has held the argument that Kidd is guilty because of past identification of Kidd as the murderer.

"The judge has a lot of documents to sort through, he's got a lot of law to sort out," O'Brien said. "The law doesn't make it easy for people like Ricky. But I think he is one step closer."

He said he believes they established a strong case for Kidd's innocence, but added, that alone is not enough. 

"Innocence is a really complicated concept in Missouri," O'Brien said.

Even though I'm not home yet, I feel exonerated in a sense, even though the freedom that comes with exoneration hasn't come.

In Missouri, an inmate claiming actual innocence is only eligible for habeus corpus relief if the death penalty has been imposed. In other words, innocence is not sufficient to release a prisoner.

"We have to show that [Kidd's] trial was not fair. And if the judge thinks Ricky is innocent, that's going to make it more likely to find his trial was not fair," O'Brien said. "There's a thousand ways a prisoner in Ricky's position can lose a case, and there's only one way to win. We need the judge to find that."

Dekalb County Judge Daren Adkins granted an additional 30 days for Kidd's attorneys to enter more evidence. After that time, Adkins will determine whether Kidd is being held unlawfully by the state. If he rules in Kidd's favor, Kidd will have a new trial in Jackson County. If Adkins denies the motion, Kidd will continue his life sentence without possiblity of parole.

When he was convicted at 22, with a baby on the way, his life as he knew it was over.

"I was an innocent man forced to live in a box built for guilty people. It was so overwhelming that suicidal ideations occured. I was in a dark place," he said.

Over the years, it was his daughter and his passion for writing that kept him going.

After the recent hearing, he said he's holding out hope. 

"Even though I'm not home yet, I feel exonerated in a sense, even though the freedom that comes with exoneration hasn't come," he said.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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