On Tuesday, November 23, Kansas City inmate Kevin Strickland was exonerated from his 1979 conviction of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder. Retired Missouri Judge James Welsh ordered an immediate release of the 62-year-old, who spent 43 years in prison without any possibility of parole for 50 years and two concurrent 10-year sentences. Welsh’s ruling that Strickland’s conviction should be overturned was based on the lack of physical evidence in the original trial. The main eye-witness against him, Cynthia Douglas, later recanted her account, discrediting the basis of the conviction. “By all accounts, Douglas was hysterical at the time, suffering from two gunshot wounds and having just witnessed the execution of three friends,” explained Judge Welsh in his ruling, which was filed on Tuesday. “The Court’s confidence in Strickland’s convictions is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside. Absent Douglas’s positive, unequivocal identification of Strickland, there would have been no charge, no trial, and certainly no conviction.”
The triple homicide occurred on April 25, 1978, when Strickland was 19 years old. According to CBS News, Douglas was drinking and smoking with Larry Ingram, John Walker and Sherrie Walker when four men entered the house and shot them. The victims were all in their early twenties. Douglas was the only survivor and witness and eventually picked Strickland out of a lineup.
According to the New York Times, Strickland spent more time in prison than anyone in Missouri who was later exonerated. “It is important to recognize when the system has made wrongs and what we did, in this case, was wrong,” said Missouri prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker.
The first stop Strickland made after his release was his mother’s grave. Rosetta Thornton died in August, but he had not been able to visit her gravesite. “To know my mother was underneath that dirt, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to visit with her in the last years […] I revisited those tears that I did when they told me I was guilty of a crime I didn’t commit,” said Strickland. His next steps are to adjust to a new world, much different than the one he left in 1979. His first night was a restless one. “I’m used to living in a close, confined cell where I know exactly what’s going on in there with me,” he said. “And being home and you hear the creaks of the home settling and the electrical wiring and whatever else […] I was kind of afraid. I thought somebody was coming to get me.”
According to CNN, Strickland aims to build a home and a life for himself. He’ll be doing so without any financial support from the state of Missouri, which is only provided for those exonerated through DNA testing. A GoFundMe account has been set up by the Midwest Innocence Project to help him restart his life and has already raised over $1 million. “I’ve been in prison for 43 years. Yeah, it’s tough, it’s real tough,” Strickland said in October. “It hurts. You know, I can’t get that 43 back. There’s nothing that they could do to make that right. My whole life is a memory of prison. I don’t know anything else.”