Kevin Strickland sits in prison, awaiting justice

Ken Garten
Legal perspectives

It seems unlikely that we would see another case like that of Kevin Strickland anytime soon, where everyone seems to agree that he is truly innocent of the triple homicide for which he has been unjustly locked up in prison for some 40 years.

That includes Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas and other public officials.

Ken Garten

In most cases where there are indications that a long serving inmate in the penitentiary is truly innocent, it is the prosecutor’s office that usually stands firm against post conviction relief, seeking to protect the conviction that was obtained by the state in court, oftentimes many years ago.

Not in Mr. Strickland’s case though. The prosecutor is at the head of the pack urging relief from his conviction and prison sentence.

Unfortunately for Mr. Strickland, the criminal justice system has a long and strong policy of finality. Once the trial is over and appeals exhausted, that’s usually it. Done deal.

The reason for this is certainty, and to keep the courts clear of a constant barrage of efforts by inmates to have their convictions overturned.

After all, the defendants of the world are constitutionally protected by the double jeopardy clause, which means that if they win their case at trial, they can’t be tried again for the same offense.

And so, when the state wins a conviction at trial, a defendant’s opportunity for a do-over is similarly greatly restricted.

But the Strickland case is one in which it appears that everyone involved who has an opinion on the subject agrees that he should be released.

Still, in prison he sits, and the legal system provides him no relief.

There is, however, one trump card in the state criminal justice system that could be invoked to free Mr. Strickland – a pardon from the governor. And it would seem that if there were ever a case that called out for this rarely granted relief, it is that of Mr. Strickland.

But alas, on Monday our governor did issue 36 pardons or reprieves to Missouri convicts.

To the surprise and disappointment of many, Mr. Strickland’s name was not on the list.

And so in prison he continues to sit, perhaps finding some level of solace in his victory in the court of public opinion, but finding no relief as yet in the criminal justice system.

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It sure is nice to see things getting closer to normal now that the COVID vaccine has been made available to those with the good sense to get it.

The graph of cases in the metro area tells the story, with a spike in cases over the last year, followed by a steep downward trend since the monumental vaccination effort has been under way.

Also telling is that the rate of the disease is going down while rules and restrictions regarding masks and gatherings are being significantly relaxed.

But it apparently hasn’t gone that way everywhere in Missouri.

Take Livingston and Linn Counties, neighboring rural counties in north-central Missouri, for instance, extremely conservative cultures where many people are resistant to government mandates (like masks) and vaccinations. Their combined populations are fewer than 30,000, but between May 20 and June 2, health statistics indicate 429 new cases over that period in those two counties combined, about one-seventieth of the population.

During the same period, Jackson County, with a population of more than 700,000, was reported 370 new cases, a ratio of about one person out of 1,900.

I truly hope that people everywhere will get vaccinated for this disease, so we can put all of this behind us.

Quote of the day: “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at krgarten@yahoo.com.