Jackson County’s prosecutors say a Black Missouri man who has served more than 40 years in prison for a triple murder should be released because the evidence used to convict him wasn’t conclusive, The Kansas City Star reported.
Following a lengthy review of his case, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has determined that Kevin Strickland is innocent in the 1978 killings. Jean Peters Baker, a Jackson prosecutor, released a statement on Monday, May 10, stating, “All those who have reviewed the evidence in recent months agree—Kevin Strickland deserves to be exonerated.” He added, “This is a profound error we must correct now.”
Strickland was 18 when he was arrested in 1978 when Cynthia Douglas, the lone surviving witness of an attack in a Kansas City home that killed three others — Sherrie Black, John Walker, and Larry Ingram — identified him as a participant in the shooting. Douglas was shot in the leg and claimed she survived by playing dead.
Immediately after the shooting, Douglas named two other men, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, who not only both pleaded guilty but swore that Strickland was not with them or two other accomplices on the night of April 25.
In a statement released in 1979, Bell stated, “But I’m telling you the truth today that Kevin Strickland wasn’t there at the house that day. I’m telling you the truth. Kevin Strickland wasn’t at that house.” He added, “I’m telling the State and the society out there right now that Kevin Strickland wasn’t there at that house. I’m telling you today, Kevin Strickland wasn’t at that house.” Meanwhile, Strickland has maintained his innocence.
KCTV reported that Douglas could not identify a third man holding a shotgun and later revealed that detectives pressured her into saying it was Strickland, stating she tried to recant for years.
“Just pick Strickland out of the lineup, and we’ll be done, it will all go away, you can go on, and you don’t have to worry about these guys no more,” Douglas said she was told.
Prosecutors said the cast against Strickland was “thin from its inception.” It was noted in reports that Douglas had been drinking and smoking weed at the time of the attack and is now recognized by today’s standards as unreliable. Strickland’s legal team also pointed that in 2009 Douglas herself contacted the Midwest Innocence Project for help and tried to work directly with prosecutors to resolve the wrongful conviction.
“I am seeking info on how to help someone that was wrongfully accused, this incident happened back in 1978, I was the only eyewitness, and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can,” she wrote. Douglas died in 2015.
A hung jury of 11 to one failed to convict Strickland. Two months later, he was convicted by an all-white jury of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
His attorney has since filed a petition, which has garnered overwhelming support even from those who convicted him over four decades ago, imploring that the Missouri Supreme Court free his client immediately.
Jackson County’s presiding Judge J. Dale Youngs, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, said in the letter, “Now that we know, he must be released soon, rather than quibble over procedural hurdles. The man has served 43 years for something he did not do.”
With his petition comes new evidence. At the time of the murders, Strickland was accused of carrying a shotgun, on which they found no fingerprints. However, with new forensic testing done this year, a fingerprint was found on the gun that doesn’t belong to Strickland. Also, the third man suspected in the killings — who the admitted perpetrators say was involved but who was never charged — now says he knows Strickland was not there that night.
“The truth of Mr. Strickland’s innocence was known over 42 years ago,” Bob Hoffman, an attorney who represents Strickland, said in a news release from the Innocence Project. “Strickland’s case is yet one more example of how long and difficult it is to overturn a wrongful conviction. It shouldn’t be this hard.”
Strickland remains in custody at the Western Missouri Correctional Center, where he’s serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 50 years, records show. Bell and Adkins served approximately 10 years each in prison in the triple murder case before they were released, The Kansas City Star reports.
If prosecutors are successful in exonerating Strickland, he would have served the longest wrongful imprisonment known in Missouri history.
At this moment, there is no information on how long the Missouri Supreme Court has to consider the petition for Strickland’s release and exoneration.