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Missouri Appeals Court Denies Attorney General’s Attempt To Further Delay Kevin Strickland Case

The Missouri Court of Appeals denied on Thursday Attorney General Eric Schmitt's request to delay evidentiary hearing and to recuse 16th judicial circuit
Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A hearing on whether to free Kevin Strickland from prison after 43 years is now scheduled for Oct. 5.

Kevin Strickland has served 43 years in prison for a triple slaying in 1979 that Jackson County prosecutors now say he did not commit.

The Missouri Court of Appeals has denied Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s petition asking it to cancel an evidentiary hearing for Kevin Strickland, who has served 43 years in prison. The Court also denied Schmitt's request for an order recusing all the judges in Jackson County from hearing the case.

The terse one-paragraph order by the appeals court gave no reason for the denial, which is the norm in cases involving a writ – an extraordinary remedy that the court issues only when there is no other adequate remedy.

The appeals court acted less than a day after Schmitt petitioned it for a writ of prohibition, which, had it been granted, would have delayed yet again an evidentiary hearing for Strickland.

A long wait

Strickland has been in prison for a triple slaying in 1979 that Jackson County prosecutors say he did not commit. His evidentiary hearing, now scheduled for Oct. 5, will determine whether he will remain in prison or be exonerated and freed.

Robert J. Hoffman, one of the attorneys representing Strickland, said, "Obviously, we're pleased with the ruling and glad that we can stay on track for the Oct. 5 hearing."

Schmitt, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Roy Blunt, has insisted on Strickland’s guilt, even though the lone eyewitness in the case has recanted her testimony.

Schmitt now has the option of petitioning the Missouri Supreme Court for relief. Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for Schmitt, told KCUR that Schmitt will take up the matter with the Supreme Court.

Prosecutors' attempt to get Strickland's conviction set aside has met with opposition from Schmitt every step of the way.

In an extraordinary set of moves for an attorney general, Schmitt has filed a raft of motions in the trial court as well as petitions for writs in the appeals court. He has moved for the recusal of all the Jackson County judges on the grounds that the presiding judge has prejudged the issue. And he has moved to delay Strickland's evidentiary hearing, which was originally set for Sept. 2.

In another remarkable development, Schmitt has been fighting with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker over the scope of discovery in the case, even though it is not clear whether the attorney general is entitled to be a party in the proceedings. And while Baker says she has provided all the information Schmitt’s office is entitled to, Schmitt has insisted that Baker’s office has withheld evidentiary materials.

Meanwhile, the man at the center of the procedural wrangling, Strickland, remains in prison. Baker announced earlier this year that her office had concluded that Strickland, who is now 62 years old, is “factually innocent” of the crimes of which he was convicted.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has cast doubt on that conclusion, telling 41 Action News this week that he does not know if Strickland is innocent or not.

Thirteen Missouri lawmakers, including the chair of the Missouri House committee that oversees Missouri’s prison system – a Republican, like Parson and Schmitt – have urged Parson to pardon Strickland.

Updated: September 23, 2021 at 11:49 AM CDT
Shortly after the appeals court turned down his petition, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt refiled it with the Missouri Supreme Court.
Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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