By Alisha Ebrahimji | CNN
The first thing Kevin Strickland did after being acquitted of a triple murder he did not commit was to visit his mother’s grave.
“Knowing that my mother was under that dirt and I had not had the opportunity to visit her in recent years … I saw the tears that I did when they told me I was guilty of a a crime I did not commit. ” Strickland told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Wednesday.
At age 19, Strickland, now 62, was convicted in 1979 of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder in a triple murder in Kansas City, Missouri. He received a 50-year life sentence without probation and served 43 years of that sentence behind bars at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, – until this Tuesday, when senior judge James Welsh handed down his ruling overriding Strickland’s sentence. .
Strickland said he heard about his release through a news report that interrupted the soap opera he saw Tuesday.
All criminal charges against Strickland were dismissed. His release makes his incarceration the longest illegal detention in Missouri history and one of the longest in the state, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.
Facing a world he does not know much about
Strickland’s first night out of jail was a troubled one, where thoughts of returning to jail, among others, kept him awake, he said Wednesday.
“I’m used to living in a tight, enclosed cell where I know exactly what’s going on in there with me,” he said. “And when you’re home and you hear the squeak of the home settling down and the electrical wires and whatnot… I was a little scared. I thought someone came to pick me up.”
Now that Strickland is a free man adapting to a new world – one without being locked up in a cell and subjected to regimental prison routines – he is working to build a home and a life for himself without financial help from Missouri.
In Missouri, only those acquitted through DNA testing are entitled to a $ 50 per day after sentencing, according to the Innocence Project. That was not the case for Strickland.
Thirty-six states and Washington, DC, have laws on the books that offer compensation to freelancers, according to the Innocence Project. The federal standard for compensating those wrongfully convicted is a minimum of $ 50,000 per year. years of imprisonment, plus an additional amount for each year spent on the death row.
A GoFundMe account has been created by the Midwest Innocence Project to help him restart his life.
Convicted as a teenager, acquitted as an adult
Four people were shot dead in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 25, 1978, resulting in three deaths, according to CNN-affiliated KSHB. The only survivor of the crime, Cynthia Douglas, who died in 2015, testified in 1978 that Strickland was at the scene of the triple murder.
Douglas sustained a shotgun injury and then told police that Vincent Bell and Kiln Adkins were two of the perpetrators. But she did not identify Strickland, whom she knew as being on the scene, until a day later, according to KSHB, after it was suggested to her that Strickland’s hair matched Douglas’ description of the shooter. Douglas claimed that her first lack of identification of him was due to the use of cognac and marijuana, according to KSHB.
But for the past 30 years, she has said she made a mistake and misidentified Strickland. According to KSHB, Douglas made an effort to liberate Strickland through the Midwest Innocence Project.
The two assailants she identified at the scene both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and each ended up serving about 10 years in prison for the crimes, according to Strickland’s attorney, Robert Hoffman.
Over the past year, there have been several efforts calling for Strickland’s release.
In May, a petition was filed with the Missouri Supreme Court regarding his release, along with a cover letter detailing the results of an investigation conducted by the county prosecutor’s conviction integrity unit. The group is reviewing allegations of innocence after the conviction, where there is new and credible evidence of innocence.
In May, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker was joined by Strickland’s attorney and the Midwest Innocence Project to present evidence that has emerged since his sentencing, according to court documents. But in June, the Missouri Supreme Court denied hearing Strickland’s petition.
Later that month, Missouri Governor Mike Parson released a list of 36 people who were pardoned by him, but Strickland was not one of them.
Earlier this month, Strickland testified during a three-day hearing – which involved eyewitnesses testifying – and the evidence presented was sufficient to acquit him.
In 2020, there were 129 exemptions nationwide. Defendants acquitted last year lost a total of 1,737 years behind bars, an average of 13.4 years per year. exemption, according to a report by The National Registry of Exonerations. And 30% of wrongful judgments in the registry database can be traced back to erroneous eyewitness identifications.
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