KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City man who was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders was released from prison Tuesday after a judge ruled that he was wrongfully convicted in 1979.
Kevin Strickland, 62, has always maintained that he was home watching television and had nothing to do with the killings, which happened when he was 18 years old. He learned of the decision when the news scrolled across the television screen as he was watching a soap opera. He said inmates began screaming.
“I'm not necessarily angry. It's a lot. I think I've created emotions that you all don't know about just yet,” he told reporters as he left the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron. “Joy, sorrow, fear. I am trying to figure out how to put them together.”
He said he would like to get involved in efforts to “keep this from happening to someone else,” saying the criminal justice system “needs to be torn down and redone.”
Judge James Welsh, a retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, ruled after a three-day evidentiary hearing requested by a Jackson County prosecutor who said evidence used to convict Strickland had since been recanted or disproved.
Welsh wrote in his judgment that “clear and convincing evidence” was presented and “the judgment of conviction must be set aside.”
He noted that no physical evidence linked Strickland to the crime scene and that a key witness – Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the April 25, 1978, shootings – recanted before her death. Douglas initially identified Strickland and testified to that during his two trials.
She later said she was pressured by police to choose Strickland and tried for years to alert political and legal experts to help her prove she had identified the wrong man, according to testimony during the hearing from her family, friends and a co-worker.
Douglas died in 2015.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who pushed for his freedom, moved quickly to dismiss the criminal charges against him so he could be released.
“Even when the prosecutor is on your side, it took months and months for Mr. Strickland to come home and he still had to come home to a system that will not provide him any compensation for the 43 years he lost,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, who stood by Strickland's side as he was released.