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After 4 Decades of False Imprisonment, Missouri Man is Exonerated in Killings

After 4 Decades of False Imprisonment, Missouri Man is Exonerated in Killings

A Kansas City man who was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders was released from prison on Tuesday after a judge ruled that he was wrongfully convicted in 1979. 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 the evidence used to convict Strickland had since been recanted or disproven.

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.

The Associated Press reports that Strickland was convicted in the April 1978 deaths of three people at a home in Kansas City. The initial evidentiary hearing focused largely on testimony from Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the shootings. She initially identified Strickland as one of four men who shot the victims and testified to that during his two trials. Douglas had “doubts” soon after the conviction but initially was “hesitant to act because she feared she could face perjury charges if she were to publicly recant statements previously made under oath.” 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.

During the hearing, attorneys for the Missouri Attorney General’s office argued that Strickland’s advocates had not provided a paper trail that proved Douglas tried to recant her identification of Strickland, saying the theory was based on “hearsay, upon hearsay, upon hearsay.” The judge also noted that two other men convicted in the killings later insisted Strickland wasn’t involved. They named two other suspects who were never charged.

Judge Welsh wrote in his judgment that “clear and convincing evidence” was presented that “undermines the Court’s confidence in the judgment of conviction.” He noted that no physical evidence linked Strickland to the crime scene and that a key witness recanted before her death. “Under these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s convictions is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside,” Welsh wrote in ordering Strickland’s immediate release.

“I’m not necessarily angry. It’s a lot. I think I’ve created emotions that you all don’t know about just yet,” Strickland 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.”

Strickland said he would now 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.”

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