Missouri Man Who Has Served 43 Years in Prison for Triple Murder Is Innocent: Prosecutors

Kevin Strickland was wrongly convicted of triple murder, prosecutors say.
Kevin Strickland's 1978 booking photo.Midwest Innocence Project

Kevin Strickland was convicted of three Kansas City murders in 1978, largely based on the pivotal testimony of an eyewitness who later recanted, say prosecutors and officials.

A 61-year-old Missouri man who has spent more than four decades behind bars after being convicted of three murders was wrongly convicted and should be exonerated, prosecutors say.

Kevin Strickland was just 18 when the lone survivor of a 1978 shotgun attack inside a Kansas City house identified him as one of the gunmen. Cynthia Douglas was shot in the leg in an assault that killed three others — Sherrie Black, John Walker, and Larry Ingram.

Douglas said she survived by playing dead and then crawled from the home to get help. Her testimony was crucial in Strickland's conviction, authorities said. Strickland has steadfastly maintained his innocence since his arrest.

"All those who have reviewed the evidence in recent months agree — Kevin Strickland deserves to be exonerated," said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, whose office tried Strickland's original case. "This is a profound error we must correct now," she said in a statement released Monday

Others are advocating for Strickland's release. Federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri, Jackson County’s presiding judge, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and members of the team that convicted Strickland four decades ago now all agree he should be exonerated, The Kansas City Star reported.

The lead prosecutor on the 1978 case has died, as has the judge in the trial.

Douglas, the sole witness, died in 2015. 

Attorneys representing Strickland have petitioned the Missouri Supreme Court seeking his immediate release from a life sentence.

Baker and Dan Nelson, Jackson County’s chief deputy prosecutor, sent a letter to Strickland's counsel saying he should be exonerated because the evidence used to convict him has since been “eviscerated.”

There was no physical evidence linking Strickland to the killings and his alibi was corroborated by others at the time, the prosecutors noted. 

The mayor also wrote, saying, “Now that we know, he must be released soon, rather than quibble over procedural hurdles. This man has served 43 years for something he did not do.”

The prosecutors also noted that Douglas had attempted to recant her testimony several times over the years before her death, saying she had felt pressured by prosecutors and only identified Strickland at the suggestion of an acquaintance.

She wrote to the Midwest Innocence Project in 2009.

"I am seeking info on how to help someone that was wrongfully accused, this incident happened back in 1978, I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can," she wrote.

"Douglas repeatedly expressed to her family members and others both her doubts about her identification of Strickland and her wish to see him exonerated," according to the Midwest Innocence Project.

“The State has robbed him of his youth, his health, and much of his life’s potential,” Strickland’s attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project and the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner concluded in their state Supreme Court petition. “If there has ever been a case befitting the phrase ‘manifest injustice,’ it is this case.”

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