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Black man imprisoned for 43 years for murders he didn't commit, visits mother's grave for the first time

Black man imprisoned for 43 years for murders he didn't commit, visits mother's grave for the first time

Kevin Strickland received a 50-year life sentence without the possibility for parole despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene.

For 43 years, Kevin Strickland has maintained his innocence in a triple murder. Convicted of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder, he spent over two-thirds of his life at Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, while the world outside raced by. His wrongful incarceration also stole from Strickland the chance to say a final goodbye to many of his family members—including his mother—who passed away while he was locked up in prison. So when this week a judge finally ordered his immediate release from state custody, the first thing Strickland did was visit his mother's grave.



 

"To know my mother was underneath that dirt and I hadn't gotten a chance to visit with her in the last years... I revisited those tears that I did when they told me I was guilty of a crime I didn't commit," the 62-year-old told CNN. According to The Washington Post, Strickland was convicted by an all-white jury at the age of 19 for the 1978 murders of Sherrie Black, 22, Larry Ingram, 21, and John Walker, 20. He received a 50-year life sentence without the possibility for parole despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene, family members providing alibis and the admitted killers themselves saying he wasn't there.



 

The case against Strickland was built on the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the sole survivor and eyewitness, who testified in 1978 that Strickland was at the scene of the triple murder. Douglas sustained a shotgun injury during the altercation on April 25, 1978, and did not identify Strickland as being at the scene until a day later after it was suggested to her that his hair matched her description of the shooter. Although she claimed at the time that her initial failure to identify Strickland was due to the use of cognac and marijuana, she spent nearly three decades after that trying to recant her testimony, because she said she was pressured by police. She reportedly also made efforts to free Strickland through the Midwest Innocence Project.



 

Meanwhile, the two assailants Douglas identified at the scene—Vincent Bell and Kiln Adkins—pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and each ended up serving about 10 years in prison for the crimes. Over the past year, there have been several efforts by legal experts and elected officials in both parties calling for Strickland's release. However, some top Republicans in Missouri pushed back. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R)—who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2022—said he believed Strickland committed the murders. Andrew Clarke, an assistant attorney general, argued that Strickland not only received a fair trial in 1979 but has "worked to evade responsibility" for decades.



 

Gov. Mike Parson (R) agreed with both, saying that pardoning Strickland would not be a "priority." Not long afterward, he pardoned Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the White couple who gained national notoriety for brandishing guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis last year and pleaded guilty to firearms charges. This week, Senior Judge James Welsh exonerated Strickland after more than 43 years in prison, making his case the longest confirmed wrongful conviction case in Missouri's history and one of the longest-standing such convictions in the nation's history. Strickland told reporters he learned of his release through a breaking news report that interrupted the soap opera he was watching on Tuesday.



 

Now a free man, he is working on building a home and life for himself without any financial help from Missouri. According to the Innocence Project, only those exonerated through DNA testing are eligible for a $50 per day of post-conviction confinement in Missouri. This wasn't the case for Strickland. A GoFundMe has been set up by the Midwest Innocence Project to help him restart his life. Tricia Rojo Bushnell, Strickland's attorney and executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, said his case was "a great example of how much a system cares about finality over fairness." 

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