Kevin Strickland Exonerated After 43 Years in Prison Following Wrongful Conviction

Kevin Strickland was convicted of triple homicide in 1979 after pivotal testimony from a lone eyewitness who later recanted her account

Kevin Strickland, 62, managed a smile while talking to the media after his release from prison, Tuesday, Nov. 23
Photo: Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star via AP

A Missouri man has been exonerated after spending more than two thirds of his life in prison for a crime he said he didn't commit.

On Tuesday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced that Senior Judge James Welsh filed a ruling to set aside Kevin Strickland's 1979 conviction for a triple homicide, according to a press release.

After serving 43 years at the Western Missouri Correctional Center, the 62-year-old man was released and dismissed of all charges by the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office.

"To say we're extremely pleased and grateful is an understatement," Baker said in the release. "This brings justice -- finally -- to a man who has tragically suffered so so greatly as a result of this wrongful conviction."

kevin strickland

According to The National Registry of Exonerations, Strickland's release marks the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri history.

On Tuesday, Strickland said he was "still in disbelief" about his exoneration before thanking his attorneys and those who believed him while he maintained his innocence over the years.

"I didn't think this day would come," he said, BBC reports.

A GoFundMe account was created by the Midwest Innocence Project to assist Strickland following his release, claiming that the State of Missouri isn't providing him with any compensation for the time he spent in prison. The fundraiser has since raised over $260,000.

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Strickland was 18 in 1978 when Cynthia Douglas, the sole surviving witness of an attack in a Kansas City home that killed three others — Sherrie Black, John Walker, and Larry Ingram — identified him as a participant in the shooting.

Immediately after the shooting, Douglas named two other men, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, who both pleaded guilty.

But that night, despite knowing Strickland personally, Douglas could not identify a third man holding a shotgun — and didn't change her mind until the next day, when her sister's boyfriend suggested it might have been Strickland, according to a letter written by Baker to advocates with the Midwest Innocence Project.

"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," Douglas said she was told, in a recollection shared with members of Strickland's legal team, reports KCTV.

Kevin Strickland
Kevin Strickland. Courtesy Midwest Innocence Project

Douglas — whose testimony proved pivotal in Strickland's conviction for the murders — eventually recanted after hearing the confessions of others, including Bell, who said in 1979, "I'm telling the State and the society out there right now that Kevin Strickland wasn't there at that house," reports KCTV.

In 2009, Douglas herself contacted the Innocence Project, according to the TV station.

"I am seeking info on how to help someone that was wrongfully accused, this incident happened back in 1978, I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can," she wrote.

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Douglas has since died, but "for many years until her death in 2015, Douglas repeatedly expressed to her family members and others both her doubts about her identification of Strickland and her wish to see him exonerated," according to the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project and its partner attorneys first filed a petition asking the Missouri Supreme Court to release and exonerate Strickland in May.

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