Kevin Strickland was serving a 50-year life sentence at the Western Missouri Correction Center for a triple murder when Senior Judge James Welsh ruled Tuesday (November 23) all criminal charges against Strickland would be dismissed.
Strickland's exoneration marks the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri history and one of the longest in the nation's history, CNN reported.
"Still in disbelief," Strickland said. "I didn't think this day would come." Strickland told reporters outside of the jail following his release. He thanked his legal team and everyone who listened to him throughout the years while he maintained his innocence.
Earlier this month, Strickland testified in a three-day evidentiary hearing where his attorneys presented evidence to support his exoneration. The hearing also involved eyewitness testimony given under oath.
"To say we're extremely pleased is an understatement," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said. "This brings justice –– finally –– to a man who tragically suffered so, so greatly as a result of this wrongful conviction."
Strickland had been charged with one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder after four people were shot in Kansas City on April 25, 1978, resulting in the deaths of three people.
The lone survivor of the shooting, Cynthia Douglas, who died in 2015, testified in 1978 that Strickland had been at the scene of the murder a day after she told police Vincent Bell and Kiln Adkins were two of the perpetrators. According to KSHB, Douglas said her initial failure to identify Strickland was due to the use of alcohol and marijuana.
Over the last three decades Douglas said she made a mistake in identifying Strickland and made efforts through the Midwest Innocence Project to free Strickland.
"Most of us have heard the famous quotation that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'" Peters Baker said in a statement back in August. "Kevin Strickland stands as our own example of what happens when a system set to be just, just gets it terribly wrong."
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Strickland, who shared plans to eventually get into public speaking and hopefully weighing in on legislation to keep this from happening to anyone else.
In 2020, there were 129 exonerations nationwide. Calculated together, the people exonerated spent a total of 1,737 years in prison at an average of 13.4 years per exoneration, according to The National Registry of Exonerations. The report notes that 30% of the exonerations in the Registry ultimately lead back to mistaken eyewitness identifications.
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