A judge in Missouri on Tuesday set aside the conviction of Kevin Strickland, a 62-year-old man who spent 43 years in prison for three murders he did not commit.
The Jackson County prosecutor has a review unit that aims to correct false convictions, and Strickland is the first to be found innocent following an evaluation. Judge James Welsh wrote in his ruling that Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker had "met her burden of providing clear and convincing evidence that undermines the court's confidence in the judgement of conviction."
Welsh also said there was "no physical evidence" that implicated Strickland in the triple homicide, and instead, he was "convicted solely on the eyewitness testimony" of Cynthia Douglas, "who subsequently recanted her statements identifying him as one of the four perpetrators." Additionally, affidavits were submitted from two men who pleaded guilty to the murders, stating Strickland was not an accomplice.
Strickland was immediately released from custody, and told reporters outside the prison in Cameron, Missouri, that he "didn't think this day was going to come. I mean, not before I got this legal team, I didn't." He added that he "was the easy mark, and the police took advantage of it. I really appreciate [Welsh] taking his time to listen and understand what really happened in 1978."
That year, he was arrested by the Kansas City Police Department, accused of shooting four people and killing three. Strickland, who is Black, was convicted in 1979 by an all-white jury, when he was 18 years old. Strickland always said he was innocent, and on Tuesday declared there's "nothing they can do to make that right. My whole life is a memory of prison. I don't know anything else."
The National Registry of Exonerations said that Strickland's wrongful imprisonment was the longest in Missouri history. He won't receive compensation from the state for the decades he spent in prison because his exoneration was based on an eyewitness account, not DNA testing. A GoFundMe has been set up to help with his expenses, and has raised $165,000 as of Tuesday evening.