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$1 million from donors, other offers of help show 'a consensus' in support of Kevin Strickland

 Kevin Strickland was imprisoned for 43 years for a 1978 murder that prosecutors argued he did not commit. A judge in November set aside the conviction and ordered him to be immediately freed.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kevin Strickland was imprisoned for 43 years for a 1978 murder that prosecutors argued he did not commit. A judge in November set aside the conviction and ordered him to be immediately freed.

Since the state of Missouri will not be compensating Kevin Strickland for the decades he spent wrongfully imprisoned, thousands of donors from across the country are making sure he has the support he needs.

A GoFundMe fundraiser to support Kevin Strickland has topped $1 million just days after he was freed from prison after spending 43 years incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit.

A Missouri judge exonerated and ordered Strickland, 62, to be released from the Western Missouri Correctional Center on Tuesday.

It didn’t take long for the donations to begin pouring in. Lisa Pelofsky, a Kansas City-based fundraising consultant, said she’s never seen anything like it.

“I remember on the day the judge announced that he'd be freed, the GoFundMe was sitting at around $38,000,” Pelofsky said. “And then I decided to check in on that fund later in the day. And later in the day, it had nearly doubled. And then it just took off.”

More than 19,000 donations have been made to the fund. The largest so far is an $8,000 from an anonymous donor.

After attending Strickland's trial, Pelofsky said she made a “modest” contribution to the fund in the hopes that it would help him with basic necessities and find a home after he was released.

That was the Midwest Innocence Project’s goal when it set up the online fundraiser in June. The fundraiser noted that Missouri law requires those who have been wrongfully convicted to be exonerated through DNA to receive compensation, which was not the case for Strickland.

That was one of the frustrations expressed by many of the fund’s thousands of donors.

“You deserve so much better than being released without a dime and no assistance to readjust to society from the state that allowed the sham investigation and trial,” wrote Barbara Easton. “I sincerely hope that enough money can be raised to make the rest of your life the best it can possibly be.”

The money raised through the fundraiser will likely be put in a trust, according to Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project.

Otherwise, she said the income would prevent him from receiving different kinds of social services.

“It is his money and it will be used in the capacity that he needs to be, but even that takes time. (He) has to get an ID, has to get a bank account, has to get through all these processes,” Bushnell told Up to Date.

Other people in the community are looking at ways to support Strickland beyond the online fund as he makes the difficult adjustment to life outside of prison.

Terrell Jolly is a local real estate developer who said he works with the community and rehabs homes to provide affordable housing. After hearing about Strickland’s case on the news, he said he began looking into ways to use his resources and provide housing to Strickland for a year.

“Just a place to call a home, where he can feel safe, where he can have some consistency, where he doesn't have to worry about any other issues, or where you can rest his head at night, and thrive and get back acclimated with society,” Jolly said.

But now that the fundraiser has taken off, Jolly said he may instead look at helping Strickland purchase a home so he can begin building equity or even a passive income.

Pelofsky said she has also heard within the fundraising community that people are looking into contributing airline miles and hotel days to send Strickland to the ocean, which he said he wanted to visit in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

She compared the growing number of contributions, including donations as little as $10, to an almost grassroots movement for Strickland.

“It sort of sends that message that there's a consensus, and I think, in our community, and probably across the nation, and maybe even the world. That consensus is that Kevin Strickland deserves all that we can give him,” Pelofsky said.

Strickland is also set to light the mayor’s Christmas tree Friday night at Crown Center. Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a tweet that he’s honored to have Strickland turn on the lights and asked the city to join the ceremony to show love for him.

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