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Kevin Strickland, A Kansas City Man Prosecutors Say Is Innocent, Gets A Hearing After 42 Years In Prison

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno
MIdwest Innocence Project
A DeKalb County Circuit Court judge could decide whether to release Kevin Strickland as early as Aug. 13.

Strickland has been behind bars since 1979. A judge in DeKalb County could choose to release him at the end of a two-day hearing set for August.

A DeKalb County Circuit Court judge has set hearing dates in the case of Kevin Strickland, a Kansas City man imprisoned for more than 42 years for a crime prosecutors now say he didn’t commit.

Strickland’s team of attorneys and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office will present opposing arguments during an evidentiary hearing on Aug. 12 and 13, after which Judge Ryan Horsman could decide whether to release Strickland.

“A jury found Petitioner Kevin Strickland guilty after a fair trial,” wrote the Attorney General’s Office in court filings. “For more than 40 years since, Strickland has worked to evade responsibility.”

Tricia Rojo Bushnell is executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, which is handling Strickland’s case with international law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.

“We will be putting on all of the evidence that we believe shows his innocence,” she said, “and the evidence that the prosecutors and others have also reviewed.”

If the judge were to deny Strickland’s petition for innocence, Bushnell said her team would take the case to the Western District Court of Appeals.

The judge could also decide he needs more time to make a decision.

Jackson County’s prosecutor charged Strickland with capital murder in 1979 for his alleged involvement in the killing of Sherrie Black, John Walker and Larry Ingram at 6934 S. Benton Ave. in Kansas City.

Strickland, who turned 62 last month, was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison without parole for 50 years.

That conviction was built upon the testimony of a single witness, Cynthia Douglas, who recanted in 2009. As reported by the Kansas City Star in September, two other men who pleaded guilty in the murders have said Strickland was not involved.

In May, after months of reviewing evidence that emerged since the crime, the county prosecutor's office, now headed by Jean Peters Baker, said Strickland is innocent and should be set free. Federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri and Jackson County’s presiding judge have agreed.

But since 1988, local prosecutors in Missouri have had no way of revisiting convictions in the courts that decided them, leaving Peters Baker with no power to free Strickland.

Missouri’s governor could issue a pardon at any time, but he has cast doubt on Strickland’s innocence.

“I am not convinced that I’m willing to put other people at risk if you’re not right,” Gov. Mike Parson told 41 Action News last month. “No one has been proven innocent here in a court of law, is the bottom line.”

One other route Strickland has toward freedom and exoneration: Gov. Mike Parson could sign into law an omnibus public safety bill, which includes a provision that would allow prosecuting attorneys to file such innocence motions with the circuit court that handed down the conviction.

Though the bill has been awaiting the governor’s signature since May, Parson’s office announced he plans to sign it on Wednesday, his deadline to sign or veto bills before they become law on their own.

The Midwest Innocence Project has set upa GoFundMe account for people looking to help support Strickland if he is released.

Strickland wouldn’t be compensated for the time he has spent in prison because the state of Missouri only compensates a narrow slice of prisoners exonerated through DNA evidence.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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