KEY POINTS

  • The Jackson County office that prosecuted a now-61-year-old Missouri man in 1979 is calling for his release
  • A review of Kevin Strickland's case found he was wrongfully convicted on the account of an unreliable lone witness
  • The witness recanted her claims after Strickland's trial and tried to free him until her death

State prosecutors called for the release of a Kansas City, Missouri man who has served over 42 years in prison, saying he was wrongfully convicted, authorities announced Monday.

An amicus brief was filed with the Missouri Supreme Court Monday to support a petition seeking for the release of 61-year-old Kevin Strickland, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement.

The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office, which prosecuted Strickland in 1979, is supporting a motion filed by nonprofit legal assistance group Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) and international law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) maintaining Strickland's innocence and calling for his release.

"This is a profound error we must correct now," Baker stated. "All those who have reviewed the evidence in recent months agree - Kevin Strickland deserves to be exonerated."

Strickland was 18 when he was named as a suspect by lone witness Cynthia Douglas in an attack that killed Sherrie Black, John Walker and Larry Ingram in a Kansas City home. However, Douglas only accused him following a suggestion from her sister's boyfriend and claimed Strickland was innocent after his trial, according to a letter Baker wrote to the Midwest Innocence Project.

"Once she became aware of her mistake, Ms. Douglas did everything she could to free Mr. Strickland and she bears no responsibility for the years Mr. Strickland has lost," MIP executive director Tricia Rojo Bushnell said in a statement

MIP said Strickland's first trial resulted in a hung jury, but an all-white jury in the second trial convicted him "based almost entirely on the unreliable eyewitness identification of (Douglas)."

Strickland's co-defendants who later pleaded guilty to the crime, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, also said that Strickland was innocent. They provided another name as an alternative suspect.

"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," Bell testified in 1979, KCTV reported.

"For a variety of reasons, including Strickland representing himself on appeal, the full picture of this error of justice was not made clear until recent months," prosecutors said.

Douglas had sent an email to MIP in 2009, saying she wanted to help someone wrongfully accused. "I was the only witness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can," her email reportedly read, as per the statement from the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office.

Prosecutors said Strickland's case was only reviewed after they were contacted in November 2020 by BCLP and learned that an article from local newspaper Kansas City Star concluded that Douglas' email was a true recantation.

"The case against Strickland, the review found, relied greatly on the testimony of a woman who witnessed the murders. The Prosecutor’s Office concluded that the witness, now deceased, sincerely wished (and attempted) to recant her identification of Strickland at trial," prosecutors stated.

A member of the original trial team, private attorney James Bell, reviewed the new evidence and said it indicated that Strickland should be set free. The presiding judge and the lead prosecutor of the case, Jim Humphrey, are both deceased.

Bell was quoted as saying, "If Jim Humphrey were alive, and was made aware of Cynthia’s efforts to recant, he would be leading the effort to get Kevin Strickland free."

The presiding judge of the 16th Circuit, J. Dale Youngs, stated that he concurred with the motion to dismiss Strickland's conviction on behalf of the court. He also said the evidence shows Strickland's actual innocence.

gavel-1017953_1920 Representation. Prosecutors claimed Strickland was wrongfully convicted in 1979. Photo: Pixabay