On November 23 2021, a judge granted Jackson County prosecutors’ motion to exonerate Kevin Strickland in a 1978 triple murder and ordered his immediate release, confirming that Strickland suffered one of the longest wrongful convictions in U.S. history.
Strickland, whom was 18 when he was arrested, endured the seventh longest wrongful imprisonment acknowledged in American history, and the longest in Missouri by more than a decade, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, which has logged 2,891 exonerations since 1989.
Strickland will soon be listed among 12 exonerees whom survived 40 years or more of prison. 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.
Judge James Welsh, a retired appeals court judge, granted the motion filed by Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker — the first of its kind under a new Missouri law — that sought to exonerate Strickland, now 62. Since he was sentenced to prison in June 1979, Strickland has spent more than 42 years and 4 months behind bars — or 15,487 days.
Strickland’s first trial in 1979 ended in a hung jury of 11 to one, with the only Black juror holding out for acquittal. Prosecutors waived the death penalty, and Strickland became the first Jackson County defendant sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.
Strickland was convicted in the deaths of Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22, at a home in Kansas City.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt fought efforts led by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and other legal and political leaders to free Strickland. Schmitt, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, said Strickland was guilty. Gov. Mike Parson declined Strickland’s clemency requests.
The evidentiary hearing focused largely on previous testimony from Cynthia Douglas, the only person to survive the April 25, 1978, shootings. She initially identified Strickland as one of four men who shot the victims and testified to that during his two trials.
But 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.