A Missouri prosecutor has filed a petition asking a judge to exonerate a man who was jailed for four decades for a triple murder she and many others don’t believe he committed.
The petition, filed on Saturday and made public on Monday, stems from a new law that gives local prosecutors the power to ask judges to exonerate prisoners they deem innocent.
“Most of us have heard the famous quote that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’,” Jackson County District Attorney Jean Peters Baker said in a written statement. “Kevin Strickland is our own example of what happens when a system defined to be fair goes horribly wrong.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office has argued in a lawsuit that Strickland is guilty. Governor Mike Parson, who could pardon Strickland, said he was not convinced Strickland was innocent.
Members of the team that sued Strickland, federal prosecutors in the Western Missouri District, Jackson County Presiding Judge, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and some Republican members of the Missouri legislature all said Strickland should to be freed.
Strickland, of Kansas City, was 18 when he was arrested in the death of Larry Ingram, 21, on April 25, 1978; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22, in a home invasion. The motion stated that at the time he was a “brash teenager” and “made arrogant and sarcastic comments which aroused the suspicion of the police.”
But he has maintained his innocence since his arrest. Jurors in his first trial were unable to reach a verdict. Strickland, who is black, was convicted for the second time by an all-white jury.
Cynthia Douglas was injured but claimed to be dead, and the case against Strickland relied heavily on her identification of Strickland as the killer. But she recanted before she died in 2015, sending an email to the Midwest Innocence Project in 2009 that said, “I’m looking for information on how to help someone who has been wrongly accused of this incident. happened in 1978, I was the only eyewitness and things weren’t clear at the time, but now I know more and I would like to help this person if I can. “
His family also signed affidavits stating that Douglas wanted Strickland released from prison. The motion stated that a longtime family friend had said in an affidavit that Douglas had told everyone that “the detectives told him what to say.”
The motion further stated that three of the four actual perpetrators had said Strickland was not involved in the homicides and two of them had identified another person. The motion also stated that a fingerprint found on the murder weapon was not Strickland’s.
“The proof of Strickland’s innocence is clear and compelling.” the motion said, adding that “the evidence supporting Strickland’s conviction has been undermined and no reliable evidence of guilt remains.”
Deputy Attorney General Andrew Clarke argued in a July petition that Strickland received a fair trial in 1979 and offered Douglas money on the day of the murders to keep “his mouth shut.” He also said that Douglas’ alleged retraction could not be verified and noted that she did not sign any affidavits regarding her change of beliefs during her lifetime.
The Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the Strickland case in June. A scheduled evidentiary hearing in DeKalb County, where Strickland is imprisoned, was dropped on August 18 so that Strickland’s lawyers could focus their efforts in Jackson County.
The new law could also spur action on the other side of Missouri.
Lamar Johnson spent 26 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Johnson was convicted of the 1994 murder of 25-year-old Marcus Boyd in an alleged drug dispute in St. Louis.
St. Louis District Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, believes Johnson was wrongly convicted and has requested a new trial. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled against her in March, while noting that the case “did not concern whether Johnson was innocent and had not received a constitutionally fair trial.”
Instead, Schmitt’s office successfully argued that Gardner did not have the authority to request a new trial so many years after the case had been tried.
It was not clear whether Gardner would now seek to overturn the conviction under the state’s new law. A Gardner spokeswoman said she was not aware of any pending immediate action.