Nov 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Kevin Strickland exonerated in one of U.S.'s longest wrongful convictions cases

Kevin Strickland.

Screenshot: Kansas City Star/Youtube

A judge on Tuesday granted prosecutors' motion to exonerate Kevin Strickland in one of the longest wrongful conviction cases in U.S. history, Kansas City Star reports.

Why it matters: Strickland walked free after spending more than 43 years in prison for three murders he did not commit.

How it happened: Strickland, now 62, was 18 when he was arrested in 1978 in Missouri. Four suspects had shot four people and killed three of them. Cynthia Douglas was the only one to survive.

  • After hearing a description of the person with the shotgun, Douglas' sister, who was not present at the scene, suggested Strickland could be a perpetrator, according to the Star.
  • Douglas called the police and later identified Strickland as a suspect from a lineup of four people, though her relatives now say she was under pressure from detectives. She later recanted her testimony, prosecutors say.
  • Strickland's first trial in 1979 ended in a hung jury 11 to one. The sole Black juror was the only one to call for an acquittal. Prosecutors intentionally excluded Black people from serving as jury at Strickland's second trial.
  • An all-white jury convicted him of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole for 50 years.

Jackson County prosecutors began reviewing Strickland’s conviction following the Star's September 2020 investigation, which included interviews with the two men who admitted guilt. They swore Strickland was not with them during the murders.

  • Strickland was declared "factually innocent" in May, after which prosecutors filed a motion to free him.

What they're saying: "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," Judge James Welsh wrote Tuesday, per the Washington Post.

  • "I was an easy mark, and the police took advantage of it," Strickland told reporters outside the courthouse. "I didn't think this day would come ... Thankful for God walking me through this for 43 years, protecting me."
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