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Kansas City Council designates June 7 to honor wrongfully incarcerated Kevin Strickland

Three men stand near a podium. They are laughing. At left is Quinton Lucas, Mayor of Kansas City. At right is Kevin Strickland. The man in the middle, back is one of Strickland's attorneys.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kevin Strickland, right, shares a light moment with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas following a proclamation declaring June 7, Strickland's birthday, as Kevin Strickland Day in Kansas City. Behind them is one of Strickland's lawyers, Logan Rutherford.

Strickland spent 43 years in prison for murders he did not commit. He said he hopes people use the day to honor all of those wrongfully convicted and urged people to do something to make the state of Missouri take responsibility for his wrongful incarceration.

Kevin Strickland spent most of his birthdays in prison for murders he did not commit. On Thursday, Mayor Quinton Lucas proclaimed his birthday, June 7, as Kevin Strickland Day in Kansas City.

Lucas presented the resolution to the City Council, saying how touched they all were by Strickland’s story.

“I am not somebody who runs the state of Missouri, none of us in here do, but I want to make sure that you know, from our heartfelt appreciations, we say thank you for your fight. We apologize for everything that you went through in the name of our city, our county, and our state," Lucas said.

“We hope just a few acknowledgements, like this one and so many others, let you know how much we care about you, how much forgiveness we have in our hearts, and more than anything, how much we thank you for the impact you're having on so many more now.”

Strickland was charged with capital murder in 1978 for the killing of Sherrie Black, John Walker and Larry Ingram in Kansas City. He was 18 when he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years by an all-white jury. Strickland’s incarceration was the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri history and one of the longest in the country.

The 1978 conviction rested on the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, who was shot in the leg. Douglas identified two of the suspects, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, who later pleaded guilty. She later testified against Strickland.

Closeup of a man wearing glasses. He is looking left and talking.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kevin Strickland talks Thursday afternoon outside Kansas City city council chambers following Mayor Quinton Lucas proclaiming June 7, Strickland's birthday, as Kevin Strickland Day in Kansas City.

Douglas recanted her testimony against Strickland in 2009 and maintained she was pressured into naming Strickland, whom she knew, as one of the assailants. Adkins and Bell also asserted his innocence, naming someone else as their accomplice.

Using a state public safety bill signed into law in 2021 that allows prosecuting attorneys to file innocence motions, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker moved for Strickland’s release. Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt opposed the move and fought it strenuously in court.

After a three-day hearing, Strickland was exonerated and released from prison on Nov. 23, 2021.

Strickland said he was honored by the city's proclamation but wished it was for something other than his wrongful conviction. He urged people to focus on holding the state accountable for his wrongful incarceration and for those of so many others.

“I'd just rather that if we could consider naming it something like Conscious Awareness Day of All Wrongful Convictions, because before me there were many others,” Strickland said. “Let's do something moving forward to make the state pay and accept the responsibility other than the mayor extending his condolences the way he's doing.”

Strickland was not compensated by Missouri, which only compensates prisoners exonerated through DNA evidence. But he said he was hopeful that days like this were proof things were changing.

“It means that people are now paying attention, that we do have a problem. I mean, 43 [years] is far too long," Strickland said. "It means a lot that they want to honor me and extend their condolences like that, but, you know, nothing can ever settle me.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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