PROTESTS GROW AGAINST PROSECUTOR AS KIDD ADJUSTS TO NEW LIFE
In the month-and-a-half since Kansas City man Ricky Kidd was freed from 23 years of wrongful imprisonment, he has been shaping a new life, and citizens are calling for the attorney who prosecuted his case to lose her current job.
Protestors say that attorney Amy McGowan has a history of misconduct and withholding evidence. Now in the District Attorney’s Office for Douglas Co., Kan., in a case that attracted national criticism, McGowen prosecuted University of Kansas student Albert Wilson for rape. Similar to Kidd’s case, there was no evidence tying Wilson to the crime.
Kidd was convicted for a 1996 double-homicide in Kansas City, Mo. He had two alibis. He said he’d been with his girlfriend that day and, at the time of the murders, was at the Jackson Co., Mo., sheriff's office to apply for a gun permit.
That evidence wasn't vetted by Kidd's public defender or heard at trial. Kidd also believed he’d been mistakenly identified as his uncle, who was later implicated in the crime but never arrested. In 2016, Kansas City police board member and civic leader Alvin Brooks wrote a letter to Missouri’s governor advocating Kidd’s innocence, citing the evidence and naming the alleged guilty parties, but received no action.
"There was evidence back at the time of the trial in 1996-97 that we knew who the three perpetrators of this crime were. There's been evidence all along it wasn't Ricky, and it was the three real perpetrators and it still took over 20 years for the truth to really come to light," said Rachel Wester, attorney with the Midwest Innocence Project, which worked to get Kidd exonerated.
In August, Missouri Circuit Court Judge Daren Adkins ruled that prosecutors from the original trial withheld evidence relied on shaky witness testimony, and reconfirmed there was no physical evidence tying Kidd to the murders.
The judge insisted Missouri had to decide if it would pursue a new trial within the next 30 days. If it decided not to do so, Kidd would be a free man for good. Missouri didn’t pursue a new trial, and Kidd remains free.
PROTESTING THE PROSECUTOR
McGowan, who was one of Kidd’s prosecutors, has been with the District Attorney's Office for Douglas County for 14 years. Citizens who are protesting her said her history of trying cases is riddled with trouble, and that Ricky Kidd's release is proof of that.
"What do we want? Amy gone! When do we want it? Now!" protesters said during a Lawrence rally in mid-September.
In 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court vacated a 52-month sentence against a man convicted of attempted child exploitation because McGowan made comments during the man’s sentencing that violated his plea deal. Several other cases have been appealed based on errors and improper comments by McGowan, say FOX4-TV Kansas City and the Lawrence Journal-World. In several of those cases, McGowan’s action were ruled in violation of court standards, but did not result in the convictions being overturned.
The Albert Wilson rape case that she prosecuted this year is now in the appeal process. (See box Page 5 for more about the Wilson case)
"How many more other cases has Amy McGowan done this in?" said Latahra Smith, director of KC Freedom Project.
The KC Freedom Project has long advocated for McGowan to be fired from her current job. "She needs to be disciplined, and we also want her disbarred," Smith said.
The Douglas County District Attorney tried to deflect by issuing a statement calling the protests a stunt to sway a jury in a current case, and criticism of McGowan misplaced because the Kidd case was overturned due to witness recanting, not McGowan’s conduct. “Ms. McGowan has never been convicted nor disciplined by the Missouri Court System or the Kansas Supreme Court,” the statement said.
Kidd, 44 at the time, walked out of a Missouri prison on Thurs., Aug. 15, after serving 23 years. A week after his release, he said the biggest surprise he encountered was automated checkout counters.
Kansas City’s FOX4 news took him on a tour of the city on Sept. 10. Neither the Power and Light District nor 18th and Vine had been redeveloped when he was convicted. "I am amazed. I am amazed," he said.
He turned 45 in Sept., celebrating his first birthday as a newly freed man. He’s started a job with the Midwest Innocence Project, which helped free him. He's the community engagement manager, working on fundraisers, volunteer engagement and helping exonerate others who were wrongfully convicted.
“I feel like people need to know that I am the type of people they are leaving behind," Kidd said. “I get to now do great work for an organization who was solely responsible, or greatly responsible, for my exoneration. I’m paying them back and they are somehow still paying me a check.”
Making a living is a problem for many exonerees. Companies discriminate in hiring, and there's no compensation bill in Missouri. Anyone wrongfully convicted is only eligible for cash compensation if DNA is used to overturn the case. As of now, Ricky Kidd isn’t eligible for a payout. Since 2011, 62 individuals in Missouri have been exonerated.
Sources: FOX4KC.com; KCUR.org; Lawrence Journal-World; TheMIP.org