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For Kansas City's Kevin Strickland, more reporting needed to uncover others wrongly convicted

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Kevin Strickland speaks to the press on Nov. 23, 2021 after being released from prison.
Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
Kevin Strickland, who uses a wheelchair, speaks to the press on Nov. 23, 2021, after being released from prison.

The media's influence has proven significant when it comes to wrongful conviction cases.

The highlighting of wrongful conviction cases by the news media has been a critical step towards exoneration for a number of innocent prisoners. How the media impacts wrongful convictions will be the focus of the Faces of Innocence virtual event Thursday evening, put together by the Midwest Innocence Project.

Erin Moriarty of CBS News, the keynote speaker for the event, has been reporting on wrongful convictions for over two decades. She says of the cases she has covered, she's watched 10 people walk out of prison.

"There may be no more exhilarating feeling than that," Moriarty says. "But, along the way, there's a lot of frustrations, too."

Case in point, when Moriarty first met eventual-exoneree Kevin Strickland, she believed it was questionable as to whether he would actually get out.

Strickland, who spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder he did not commit was exonerated last November. He says without reporting on his case from The Kansas City Star's Luke Nozicka, he would still be behind bars. Strickland believes there are many others in prison whose cases deserve a second look, but that they might never get that opportunity.

"Y'know, everyone in prison says they're not guilty. But yeah, there are a few people behind those gates and walls that are actually innocent, and they're just not receiving assistance from attorneys to have their cases brought to the light."

Strickland believes a lack of investigative reporters diving into this kind of research is at the heart of the problem, and that's something that Moriarty has grown concerned with as well.

"These cases have long histories, they're complicated, they take a lot of time, they take a lot of research," explains Moriarty. "And a lot of local news operations and even the networks don't have the staff for that."

Along with a better understanding of how confessions can be coerced in the criminal justice system, Moriarty thinks strides made in forensic technologies are helping people understand just how many of these cases exist.

"DNA and all of these forensic types of new technologies have really allowed us to see how often the system doesn't work," says Moriarty. "There's estimates that between three and four percent of the people currently in prison are actually innocent."

Erin Moriarty and Kevin Strickland will be featured at "Faces of Innocence," a benefit for the Midwest Innocence Project at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 28th. Registration for this virtual event is free.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
As Up To Date’s associate producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.