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Citing 'Profound Error,’ Prosecutor Wants Kansas City Man Immediately Released After 43 Years In Prison

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Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Monday that a Kansas City man imprisoned for 43 years is innocent and should be freed immediately.

Kevin Strickland, now 62, was convicted of a triple murder in 1978 on the testimony of one eyewitness and sentenced to a “hard 50.” Strickland always said he was innocent.

A Kansas City man who was convicted of a 1978 triple murder on the word of one eyewitness must be freed immediately, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Monday.

Kevin Strickland, now 62, deserves to be exonerated because he did not commit the murders, Baker said. The case against him relied on the testimony of a woman who witnessed the murders and later recanted.

The case was brought to the prosecutor's office by Kirkland’s lawyers, the Midwest Innocence Project and private attorney Bob Hoffman. When Strickland could be released is up to the Missouri Supreme Court, where Baker’s office and others filed requests on Monday.

An emotional Baker apologized to Strickland at a press conference.

It is important to recognize when the system has made wrong to someone. And what we did in this case was wrong,” Baker said. “So to Mr. Strickland, 'I am profoundly sorry. I am profoundly sorry for the harm that has come to you.'”

Baker said she also called Strickland Monday at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, “and he gave me a lot of grace.”

“While justice has been delayed, we believe it will not be denied,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell of the Midwest Innocence Project.

The day Strickland's life changed

On April 25, 1978, four men entered Larry Ingram's Kansas City home located at 6934 South Benton Ave., and shot him, Sherrie Black and John Walker. Also shot was Cynthia Douglas, “who was traumatized herself in the triple murder,” Baker said.

Douglas immediately identified two of the suspects, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, and only later identified Strickland after his name was suggested to her.

Strickland, then 18, was convicted under Missouri’s “hard 50” law, which called for a sentence of at least 50 years in prison before being considered for parole. His first trial in 1979 resulted in a hung jury when the lone Black juror voted to acquit, said Tricia Rojo Bushnell of the Midwest Innocence Project. The second trial had an all-white jury.

Douglas wrote to the Midwest Innocence Project in 2009, saying she’d like to help Strickland.

“I was the only witness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can,” she wrote in the email.

Douglas died in 2015 at age 57.

The case was profiled by the Kansas City Star in September, and Hoffman took the case to Baker’s office in November, where it was reviewed by the Conviction Integrity Unit. Douglas’ email was found to be a “true recantation,” Baker said and was supported by three others close to her.

And, new scientific research about eyewitness identification shows Douglas’ testimony back in 1978 was unreliable, Bushnell said.

Baker said federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Jackson County’s presiding judge, had reviewed the case and also believe Strickland should be released.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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