Kansas City man to be released after 43 years following exoneration in triple murder

A Kansas City, Mo., man will be released from jail after a judge ruled on Tuesday that he was wrongly convicted of three murders in 1979, which put him behind bars for more than four decades.

Kevin Strickland, 62, was convicted of killing Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22, in Kansas City on April 25, 1978, even though he consistently asserted that he was watching television at his home at the time of the killings, according to The Associated Press. He was 18 years old when the killings took place.

His first trial ended in a hung jury after the sole Black juror on the panel maintained that Strickland, a Black man, should be acquitted, the AP reported. During his second trial in 1979, however, an all-white jury found him guilty of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

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Retired Missouri Court of Appeals Judge James Welsh ultimately exonerated Strickland of the crimes on Tuesday after presiding over a three-day evidentiary hearing, the AP reported. A Jackson County prosecutor asked for the hearing after arguing that evidence used for Strickland’s conviction had been retracted or proven false since his conviction.

“Under these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s conviction is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside,” Welsh wrote on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

“The State of Missouri shall immediately discharge Kevin Bernard Strickland from its custody,” he added.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) opposed the actions spearheaded by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and other individuals in the legal and political industries to help free Strickland from incarceration, according to the AP. Schmitt is currently running for U.S. Senate and has tied himself to former President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) also rejected clemency requests from Strickland, the AP reported.

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A significant portion of the evidentiary hearing centered on previous testimony from Cynthia Douglas, the only person who survived the 1978 shooting, according to the AP. Douglas, who died in 2015, initially said Strickland was one of the four men responsible for the fatal shootings, but later revealed that she was pressured by the police to blame the murders on him.

Her family, friends and a co-worker testified at the evidentiary hearing that Douglas had made several attempts over the years to tell political and legal experts that she had falsely pinned the murders on Strickland, seeking their help in proving her newfound stance.

Lawyers representing the Missouri attorney general’s office contended that individuals backing Strickland had not laid out a paper trail that supported the notion that Douglas made efforts to take back her testimony that placed the onus on Strickland, according to the AP. The attorney said the idea was founded in “hearsay, upon hearsay, upon hearsay.”

Two other men who were convicted in connection to the triple murder also revealed that Strickland was not present at the scene of the crime, the AP reported, citing The Kansas City Star. They identified two other suspects, but they were never charged in the case.

Strickland also testified at the hearing, arguing that he never told Douglas he would give her $300 to “keep her mouth shut,” the AP reported. He also contended that he had never spent time at the house where the killings occurred before they took place.

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The process to hold an evidentiary hearing for Strickland culminated with Peters Baker pointing to a new state law as the reason why her request for the hearing was warranted. The law gives local prosecutors the ability to challenge convictions if they are under the impression that the defendant is not guilty of the crime, according to the AP.

Strickland’s case was reportedly the first time a prosecutor utilized the law to object to a past conviction. Peters Baker had initially revealed in May that she thought Strickland was innocent after reviewing the case.

Schmitt’s office filed a number of motions in an attempt to delay the hearing, according to the AP. One of the motions, which called for all judges on the 16th Circuit to be rescued from the hearings, was granted.

Schmitt’s office pointed to a letter that included comments from the circuit’s presiding judge saying he believed Strickland should be exonerated of the charges against him, the AP reported.