Kevin Strickland deserves justice from the state of Missouri
When there is clear evidence that a person has been wrongly convicted, that person deserves his day in court.
When that person still sits in prison for that conviction, the need for that day in court is urgent. When the office of the local prosecutor that brought the case now says the conviction was wrong and that there is clear evidence of that person’s actual innocence, the issue is more urgent yet.
Kevin Strickland deserves justice, but two men have stood in his way.
Three people were killed and a fourth wounded in an attack on a home in Kansas City in April 1978. The survivor initially did not identify Strickland as one of the shooters. When asked if she knew who held the shotgun during the crime, she told police “No.” Later, Strickland’s name came up, and she then said he was there – the basis of Strickland’s conviction – but soon after that began telling family members that she had it wrong.
A dozen years ago she formally contacted the Midwest Innocence Project to recant her testimony.
Strickland is Black. His first trial ended in a mistrial. The Jackson County prosecutor’s office now says the prosecutor at the time called it “careless” and a “mistake” to have allowed at least one Black juror in that case. At the second trial, the prosecutor excluded potential Black jurors. An all-white jury convicted Strickland.
The prosecutor’s office reviewed the case last year and in a court filing says it found “clear and convincing evidence of Stickland’s actual innocence that significantly undermines any confidence in his conviction.”
The two men who pleaded guilty to the crime said Strickland wasn’t there. The prosecutor’s office says fingerprint testing “excludes Strickland from the murder weapon” and, further, than no evidence remains to support his conviction.
Yet Stickland remains in prison, where he’s been since 1979.
Gov. Mike Parson has the power to pardon, a power granted governors to address miscarriages of justice. He has chosen to do nothing.
The Missouri General Assembly this year passed a law giving prosecutors another path to a court to set aside a wrongful conviction. The office of County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker did so immediately when the new law took effect in late August. Strickland last week was set for a court appearance and, possibly, freedom.
But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt chose to meddle in the case. State Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, sponsored the new law and said it wasn’t written to allow the attorney general to file motions in such cases. But a court let Schmitt proceed anyway, setting off a new round of court dates and delays. When Strickland might get a yes or no on his exoneration and freedom is now unclear.
This is nothing short of cruel, and Eric Schmitt is responsible for it. Strickland won’t go free unless a judge says so, but the facts clearly show he deserves to be heard in a court of law.
This is a stain on Missouri. This undermines faith in the criminal justice system. And, not least, this is about a man having the better part of his life taken from him. He deserves justice.