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Considering forgiveness for man, prosecutors say wrongly sentenced is not a priority for Missouri governor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has said addressing the pardon request for a man who has been behind bars for a triple murder for more than four decades is not a “priority,” even though prosecutors say he did not commit the crime.

Parson noted that Kevin Strickland, 62, had been tried “by a jury of his peers” and found guilty. But he added that he knew there was “a lot more information out there.”

Parson has a backlog of about 3,000 pardon requests, the Kansas City Star reported. He granted almost no pardons before his re-election in 2020, but has since started issuing a pardon group on a monthly basis.

“When something like that comes up, we look at those cases, but I’m not sure if that necessarily makes it a priority to jump in front of the line,” Parson said at a press conference Monday. “We understand that some cases are going to get more media attention than others, but we’re just going to look at these things.”

Several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle signed a letter asking for a pardon from Strickland, who has maintained his innocence since his April 1978 conviction to the deaths of three people in Kansas City.

Jackson County District Attorney Jean Peters Baker has requested his release. Federal prosecutors for the Western Missouri District, Jackson County Presiding Judge, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, and members of the team who convicted Strickland have also said he should be cleared.

A bill approved this year that awaits Parson’s signature would give local prosecutors more power in such cases by allowing allegations of innocence to be brought to trial courts when a prosecutor believes a prisoner is innocent. Baker has said that if the governor signs the bill, she will table a motion on the first day he is legally allowed to have Strickland released.

The Star reported in September that two men who have pleaded guilty to the murders for decades have sworn Strickland was not with them and two other accomplices in the shooting. The only eyewitness also recanted and called for Strickland’s release.

In a petition filed with the Missouri Supreme Court in May, defense attorneys also noted that prosecutors had removed the only four potential black jurors from the trial of Strickland, who is black.

Due to the prosecution’s “racially motivated” strikes, Strickland’s fate was decided by an all-white jury in a trial overseen by a white judge with white lawyers, the Star reported.

The state Supreme Court refused to hear Strickland’s case, without giving a reason.

Strickland asked for pardon on Tuesday, saying he did not want his sentence commuted. Anything less than a full pardon “would leave an unfair and undeserved stain on my criminal record,” he wrote.

“Through total forgiveness, you have the power not only to correct my wrongful conviction, but also to ensure that my innocence is finally recognized,” Strickland wrote.

If Strickland is released, he will not be entitled to state compensation. Missouri only compensates inmates who are cleared through DNA evidence, according to the Midwest Innocence Project.

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