Kevin Strickland walked out of a Missouri prison Tuesday, exonerated of the murder that had put him there but without any means of financial support, except for GoFundMe and hope. 

One of his lawyers, Tricia Rojo Bushnell of the Midwest Innocence Project, set up an online fundraiser on his behalf. 

By Saturday more than 20,000 strangers had donated a total above $1.3 million to assist his re-entry into Missouri society. 

Bushnell’s exoneration did not involve DNA evidence, and according to the law in Missouri that fact disqualifies him from state compensation.

Strickland’s first purchases outside of prison have been modest ones. On his way to the Independence Center shopping mall to spend $25, he told The New York Times in a telephone call that he planned to buy cough drops and a shower cap. 

He also said, “The courts failed me and that’s who should be trying to make my life a little more comfortable,” but he added, “I really do appreciate the donations and contributions [the online donors] made to try to help me acclimate to society.” 

Kevin Strickland, who spent 43 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, does not yet have a bank account, or a phone line, or any form of government identification. All of that is yet to be arranged. But for now he is staying in his brothers’ house, and he won’t receive the million-plus until he has a bank account that can receive it. 

Bushnell, the lawyer who set up the GoFundMe page allowing those donors to contribute the million plus, routinely sets up these pages for newly released clients. But she said the amount raised this time was a surprise.  

Bushnell thinks the way the public has responded to Kevin Strickland’s exoneration is a hopeful sign. “Until the system has changed where the system is failing,” she said, “the community is stepping in to fix it. To fill the void.  It’s pretty amazing.” 

She also said that the Midwest Innocence Project will set up Mr. Strickland with a financial adviser to help him make the best use out of that money. 

Judge James Welsh, the judge of the Jackson County Circuit Court who set Kevin Strickland free, said Tuesday that there were three factors that required this result: the lack of physical evidence, the eyewitness’ credible and consistent recantation before her death, and the insistence of two other men convicted of the crime that Strickland wasn’t involved.

The recantation came from Cynthia Douglas, a survivor of the triple-homicide shooting for which Strickland was convicted. Strickland repeatedly recanted before her death. Opponents of Strickland’s release had earlier described these recantations as “hearsay.”

Welsh wrote, though, that the sole witness recanted her testimony at a time when “she believed she could be prosecuted for perjury if she recanted,” and because her statements were made despite that conviction, “they fall within the statement-against-interest exception to the hearsay rule, thereby constituting admissible evidence entitled to be accorded greater weight.”

The triple murder was a horrific crime taking the lives of Larry Ingram, John Walker, and Sherrie Black in Kansas City on April 25, 1978. But it was important to Judge Welsh that the two other men convicted in that crime, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, have each told reporters that Strickland was not there, contrary to Douglas’ trial testimony.

Strickland is a Black man, and his first trial ended in a hung jury when the only Black juror, a woman, stood firm for acquittal. At his second trial Kevin Strickland faced an all-white jury, and there was no hold out in the jury room that time. He was convicted.