Missouri man acquitted of 3 murders after 43 years in prison

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Missouri man acquitted of 3 murders after 43 years in prison

After being acquitted Tuesday of the 1978 triple murder in Kansas City for which he had spent more than 43 years in prison, 62-year-old Kevin Strickland went straight from prison to his mother’s grave.

“That was the first stop we made,” his attorney, Tricia Rojo Bushnell, said in an interview.

Mr Strickland’s mother, Rosetta Thornton, died in August, but could not go to his grave site because he was serving time for a crime, insisting he had no role: April 25, 1978, The Murders of Sherry Black, 22, Larry Ingram, 21, and John Walker, 20.

Mr Strickland was convicted in 1979 of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison without the possibility of parole and two concurrent 10-year sentences Went.

But acquitting him on Tuesday, Judge James Welsh of Missouri’s Western District of Appeals Court said Mr Strickland was convicted, despite a lack of physical evidence linking the crime scene, that another man convicted in the murders had Said Mr. Strickland was not involved and the lone eyewitness later tried to defer his testimony.

Mr Strickland spent more time in prison than anyone in Missouri, who was later acquitted, according to the National Registry of Exoneration.

The case against Mr Strickland was largely built around the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, who was the only eyewitness and survivor of the 1978 attack. After being treated for gunshot wounds to her arm and leg, Ms Douglas was able to identify two of the four. The men responsible for the attack but could not identify the other two.

Judge Welsh wrote in his opinion, “By all accounts, Douglas was hysterical at the time, suffering from two gunshot wounds and had just seen three friends put to death.” From a live lineup, Ms Douglas later chose Strickland, who was in custody and “a known accomplice” of the two men whom Ms Douglas had identified.

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Two individuals, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, pleaded guilty to their roles in the murders in 1979. In his testimony, the judge wrote, Mr. Bell “stands firm that Strickland was not present at the crime scene and played no role in the triple murder.”

According to court records, within a year of Mr Strickland’s conviction, Ms Douglas began telling people close to her that she had misidentified Mr Strickland as an assailant in the attack. It wasn’t until 2009, however, that he sent an email to the Midwest Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating and prosecuting wrongfully convicted people.

Ms Douglas, who died in 2015, wrote: “I am seeking information on how to help someone who was falsely accused.” “This incident happened in 1978, I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear then, but now I would like to learn more and help this person if I can.”

Shortly after Ms. Douglas wrote the Midwest Innocence Project, Mr. Strickland also approached the nonprofit for help. The group took their case into their own hands and launched an investigation.

In its 2020 investigation, The Kansas City Star reported that Mr Bell and Mr Adkins had sworn that Strickland was not with them during the attack.

The review of the case was made possible at the request of a Jackson County prosecutor, who said the evidence used in Mr Strickland’s sentencing had been rebutted or denied, leading to a clear hearing in Mr Strickland’s case two weeks earlier.

In his decision, which was filed Tuesday, Judge Welsh wrote: “The Court’s confidence in Strickland’s sentence is so low that it cannot stand, and the sentencing decision must be set aside. Absent Douglas’s Strickland of positive, clear identification, there will be no charge, no trial, and certainly no punishment.

Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, a Republican, decided earlier this year not to pardon Mr. Strickland. However, in post Twitter Regarding Mr Strickland’s acquittal on Tuesday, Governor Parson acknowledged that this year he had signed a bill into law “creating a judicial process to prosecute lawyers in such cases, where the prosecutor believes That there was a miscarriage of justice and a wrongful conviction was recorded.”

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“The court has made its decision, we respect the decision, and the Department of Corrections will proceed immediately with the release of Mr. Strickland,” Governor Parson said.

After visiting his mother’s grave on Tuesday, Mr Strickland went to dinner with friends, family members and his lawyer, Ms Rojo Bushnell.

“He describes it in a way that he has yet to have a word for the feeling because it is only a small part of so many things,” Ms. Rojo Bushnell said in an interview Tuesday night away from dinner. said in. “There is happiness, but there is also sadness and sorrow and anger and it is all combined into one thing.”

The Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, a Democrat, said that acquittal “brings justice — in the end — to a man who has suffered very tragically as a result of this wrongful conviction.”

“To say that we are extremely pleased and grateful is an understatement,” said Ms. Baker.

But not everyone was happy. Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmidt, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in 2022, fought an acquittal. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday night.

Mr Strickland still faces many challenges. Because he was acquitted without DNA evidence, Mr Strickland is not entitled to compensation from the state, his lawyer said. He will also need an identity card, a bank account and help in obtaining clothes.

“These are all questions she never had to think about or wasn’t able to think about that she would have to do very quickly,” said Ms. Rojo Bushnell. “We’re glad he’s at home, but we also know there’s nothing that can give him that time back.”

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