Kevin Strickland Will Miss His Mother’s Funeral After Innocence Hearing Delayed Again
Instead of setting a date to begin hearing evidence, a judge and attorneys will meet Sept. 13, to decide if Strickland's case will be heard in a Jackson County Court.
Once again, the date for an evidentiary hearing in the innocence case of Kevin Strickland is up in the air.
In a meeting with attorneys on Thursday, Judge Kevin Harrell set a date of Sept. 13 to decide whether he will continue to preside over the case and whether the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County is the proper venue.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed to remove Harrell and the entire 16th Circuit from the case, claiming they are not impartial. Schmitt had previously filed an emergency motion to delay the hearing, less than 24 hours before it was set to begin.
“Look, this is disappointing, you know, that this hearing wasn’t able to happen today,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, “but I think the point that needs to be made is that this hearing will happen. There is going to be a hearing, Kevin Strickland will receive his day in court.”
In 1979, the Jackson County Prosecutor's office charged Strickland with capital murder for his alleged involvement in the killing of Sherrie Black, John Walker and Larry Ingram at 6934 S. Benton Ave. in Kansas City. A jury convicted him and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.
But Baker has insisted since May that Strickland is innocent. Her conclusion came after a months-long review of new evidence in the case.
Schmitt and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson have repeatedly said Strickland’s original guilty verdict was appropriate.
“A jury found Petitioner Kevin Strickland guilty after a fair trial,” Schmitt's office wrote in court filings. “For more than 40 years since, Strickland has worked to evade responsibility.”
In their motion yesterday, the attorney general’s office argued the expedited hearing schedule did not give his office enough time to prepare to question witnesses and present arguments at the hearing.
“Frustrating is the right word — that’s what this is,” Baker said. “You would think that 41 years is enough time for someone to investigate the claim.”
Decades of delay
Strickland’s original conviction hinged on the testimony of a lone eyewitness, Cynthia Douglas, who was wounded in the attack. According to a court filing from the prosecutor’s office, though, Douglas soon realized she was mistaken and recanted her testimony.
Two other men identified by Douglas, both of whom pleaded guilty, have said that Strickland wasn’t involved in the murders.
Baker’s filing motion also noted that fingerprints taken from the shotgun used in the killings do not belong to Strickland.
The motion also suggests the 1979 case was racially biased because of an all-white jury.
Judge Harrell had previously determined that, under a new law allowing Baker to press for Strickland’s exoneration in Jackson County, Schmitt cannot be a party to the case unless it is appealed. Harrell also struck all the motions Schmitt’s office filed in the case. But Missouri's Western District Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Harrell was mistaken and ordered him to reinstate Schmitt's motions.
Before the appeals court delayed Thursday’s hearing, Harrell had ordered the state to bring Strickland to the Jackson County Circuit Court for a hearing Friday — a decision that appeared to suggest Strickland might be freed as early as this weekend, in time to attend his mother's funeral.
Now, though, Strickland will have to wait, again.
A group of exonerees who attended Thursday's hearing expressed their support for Strickland.
"I can promise you that he is probably more stressed now than he was when he got convicted,” said Kenneth Nixon, an exoneree from Michigan, and the chairman of the National Organization of Exonerees.
“People tend to forget that there’s lives on the other side of this,” Nixon told reporters after Thursday’s meeting. “Someone’s sitting in a cell wrongly and the process is being slowed because of procedural issues. That’s frustrating.”