– Kevin Strickland is 61 years old. He now uses a wheelchair. A new legal petition says the state robbed him of his youth, health and freedom.
The Midwest Innocence Project paints a picture of a racist, botched legal process that was more focused on securing convictions than finding the truth in a 1978 Kansas City triple murder.
Four people were tied up and attacked by at least four gunmen inside a home at 69th Street and Benton Boulevard. All the victims were shot. Two men and one woman died. A fourth woman was shot in the leg and pretended to be dead. She later crawled out of the house to get help.
Jailed Kansas City man innocent after 42 years, prosecutor and legal team says
The filing spells out key points:
- Strickland had an alibi verified by numerous people
- No physical evidence connected him to the crime
- Two admitted gunmen cleared Strickland in sworn confessions
- The prosecutor struck Black potential jurors in a second trail alluding to the “mistake” of allowing a Black juror in the first trial which resulted in a hung jury
The surviving victim claimed police pressured her into identifying Strickland who closely resembled the real gunman
“Just pick Strickland out of the lineup and we’ll be done, it will all go away, you can go on and you don’t have to worry about these guys no more,” Cynthia Douglas recalled to Strickland’s legal team.
Douglas died in 2015. Much of the case hinged on her identification. The filing points out an injured witness who have been drinking and smoking pot is now recognized in today’s standards as largely unreliable.
Strickland’s legal team points out Douglas herself contacted the Midwest Innocence Project for help years ago and tried to directly work with prosecutors to resolve a wrongful conviction.
Midwest Innocence Project
Douglas had listened to other gunmen admit to the crimes in court confessions and realized Strickland was not involved. It was another man who was similar in height and build to Strickland.
Admitted killer Vincent Bell back in 1979:
But I’m telling you the truth today that Kevin Strickland wasn’t there at the house that day. I’m telling you the truth. Kevin Strickland wasn’t at that house. I’m telling the State and the society out there right now that Kevin Strickland wasn’t there at that house. I’m telling you today, Kevin Strickland wasn’t at that house.
Prosecutors never went back to free Strickland. In the end, two gunman cut deals and served 10 years each. A third named suspect was never even charged. And the fourth gunman who was confused with Strickland simple walked on this crime. Only Strickland remains in prison. He has maintained his innocence for more than 43 years.
Current prosecutor supports Strickland’s release
The new petition points out the current prosecutor supports Strickland’s immediate release.
“We are grateful to Jean Peters Baker and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office for their support of Mr. Strickland’s innocence and their work reviewing his case,” stated MIP’s executive director Tricia Rojo Bushnell. “The evidence of Mr. Strickland’s innocence is clear, and we applaud the prosecutor’s office for fulfilling their duty as ministers of justice to ensure that justice is done—in this case, doing everything possible to help exonerate an innocent man.”
The petition is now before the Missouri Supreme Court and asks for immediate relief.
It also points to new information- a fingerprint found on a murder weapon has been analyzed and does not match Strickland.
Innocence cases and the Midwest Innocence Project
Strickland is represented by the Midwest Innocence Project. The same group which helped free Lamonte McIntrye, Richard Jones, Floyd Bledsoe, Ricky Kidd and Pete Coones.
They point out studies estimate between 2-7% of prisoners are actually innocent. And that 1-25 people on death row is innocent.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions contributing to nearly 70% of DNA exonerations, according to the Midwest Innocence Project.
Strickland will be one of the most dramatic cases of wrongful incarceration if recognized by the court due to the length of his imprisonment, 42 years and counting.
Richard Phillips served 46 years for a crime he did not commit, according to the Innocence Project.
Ledell Lee was executed 4 years ago. Just last week, DNA revealed a different man’s DNA was found on a murder weapon. Lee maintained his innocence the entire time.
Strickland is also represented by Bob Hoffman with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, an international law firm with offices in Kansas City.