Kevin Strickland, a 62-year-old man from Kansas City, Mo., was exonerated on Tuesday after spending 40 years in jail for murders that he did not commit. Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the shootings blamed on Kevin Strickland, later revealed she was pressured by police to name a suspect and was forced to send the wrong man to prison.
In 1979, the time of the shooting, he was convicted of killing Larry Ingram, 21, John Walker, 20, and Sherrie Black, 22, in a triple homicide. According to NBC News, Strickland has maintained ever since that he was innocent and was at home watching television. He was just 18 years old at the time.
Judge James Welsh, a retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, exonerated him ruling that evidence used to initially convict him had since been disproved and recanted.
“I’m in disbelief,” Kevin Strickland told reporters. “I didn’t think this day was gonna come.”
A Missouri law went into effect back in August known as Senate Bill 53, which allowed for attorneys to ask judges to review and reverse old cases. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker pushed for Kevin Strickland’s case to be reversed, and had to fight against comments from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Governor Mike Parson to put it before the judge.
Originally testifying as the lone witness, Cynthia Douglas later said before she died in 2015 that she tried to work with legal experts to get the courts to recognize that she helped convict the wrong man. Testimony from Cynthia Douglas’ friends, family, and former co-worker attested to the fact, but Missouri officials remained adamant that Strickland was guilty despite having no other evidence to prove it.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt called the testimony “hearsay, upon hearsay, upon hearsay,” stating that her claims that police forced her to choose Strickland was unfounded.
Since Strickland’s trial, two other men convicted in the 1978 shooting told reporters that Strickland was not at the scene of the crime when it happened, and that there were two other people involved who were never tried or brought in for questioning.
Kevin Strickland also turned down suggestions that he had paid Cynthia Douglas to keep her mouth shut, since she was the one who testified against him. He stated that he had never even been to the house where the murders occurred.
In 1979, he was given a second trial after the lone Black woman on the jury refused to convict him in the crime. Known as a “hung jury,” the trial was redone with a new jury that happened to be all-white, and he was convicted of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
The Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear his case, but the new Senate Bill 53 allowed for local courts to review cases as well. Kevin Strickland was exonerated in Jackson County, where he was first convicted 40 years prior.
“These folks are absolutely innocent and never should have been convicted in the first place,” said Jamala Rogers, founder of the Organization for Black Struggles. “We have a system where we have elected prosecutors and those prosecutors can’t work.”
“We have to make our citizens, particularly our voters understand,” she said, that “we have folks we have put in office to do the job of justice and they have not been doing that.”
“On behalf of the people of Missouri, we apologize for you being robbed of your life,” Rogers stated.
After the Senate bill was passed, protestors appeared outside the courthouse to support Strickland’s release, chanting “let them out!”
Demonstrators also called for the release of Lamar Johnson, a man who spent 26 years in prison despite the fact that two other men have come forward to claim that they were guilty.