Kevin Strickland, 61, speaks during an interview Nov. 5, 2019, in a visiting room at Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron. He now uses a wheelchair because medical issues keep him from standing for more than a few minutes at a time. James Wooldridge / The Kansas City Star JAWOOLDRIDGE@KCSTAR.COM

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Jackson County Prosecutor States MIP & BCLP Client

Kevin Strickland Is Actually Innocent

Attorneys ask Missouri Supreme Court to set Strickland free

 

Kansas City, Mo. (May 10, 2021) – The Midwest Innocence Project (MIP), working in partnership with international law firm, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP), has filed a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Missouri Supreme Court seeking the release and exoneration of their client, Kevin Strickland. Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker, whose office prosecuted Strickland in 1979, agrees Strickland is innocent and has joined in calling for his release.

 

“We are grateful to Jean Peters Baker and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office for their support of Mr. Strickland’s innocence and their work reviewing his case,” stated MIP’s executive director Tricia Rojo Bushnell. “The evidence of Mr. Strickland’s innocence is clear, and we applaud the prosecutor’s office for fulfilling their duty as ministers of justice to ensure that justice is done—in this case, doing everything possible to help exonerate an innocent man.”

 

Strickland has served over 42 years in prison for a 1978 triple homicide that claimed the lives of Sherrie Black, John Walker, and Larry Ingram, and injured Cynthia Douglas. Strickland has consistently maintained his innocence during his long incarceration. Since his conviction, evidence of Strickland’s innocence has continued to emerge, including sworn statements from the actual perpetrators declaring Strickland’s innocence and naming the previously unidentified fourth perpetrator, for whom Strickland was mistaken, and a recantation of an identification of Strickland as one of the perpetrators from the sole surviving victim of the crime, Cynthia Douglas.

 

“Once she became aware of her mistake, Ms. Douglas did everything she could to free Mr. Strickland and she bears no responsibility for the years Mr. Strickland has lost,” stated Rojo Bushnell. “Mr. Strickland’s conviction was the failure of a system and the injustice of his continued incarceration harms not only him, but the families of the victims, who must continue to relive this horrible crime as we fight to correct this injustice.”

 

Strickland’s first trial resulted in a hung jury, but he was convicted at a second trial by an all-white jury based almost entirely on the unreliable eyewitness identification of the surviving victim, Douglas. Although Douglas knew Strickland at the time of the crimes, she did not immediately identify him as a perpetrator. Instead, she named two of the four perpetrators and told police she could not identify the other two. After others suggested to Douglas that they had previously seen Strickland in the company of the two known perpetrators, Douglas provided Strickland’s name to police.  Modern scientific understanding of cognition and memory deeply undermines the reliability of Douglas’s eyewitness identification, and for many years until her death in 2015, Douglas repeatedly expressed to her family members and others both her doubts about her identification of Strickland and her wish to see him exonerated.

 

In addition to Douglas’ recantation, Strickland’s innocence is also supported by sworn statements from the true perpetrators, declaring Strickland’s innocence and, in the case of two of the codefendants, naming the individual for whom Strickland was mistaken. The first of these confessions came just months after Strickland’s conviction, at co-defendant Vincent Bell’s plea hearing. As part of his plea, Bell described what occurred on the night of the crime and made clear that “Kevin Strickland wasn’t there at the house that day.”

 

“The truth of Mr. Strickland’s innocence was known over 42 years ago,” stated BCLP attorney Bob Hoffman, who also represents Strickland. “Strickland’s case is yet one more example of how long and difficult it is to overturn a wrongful conviction. It shouldn’t be this hard.”

 

In November 2020, Strickland, BCLP, and the MIP submitted his case to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit for their review. Following a thorough examination of all of the evidence, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office concluded in a letter that “[r]eliable, corroborated evidence now proves that Mr. Strickland is factually innocence of the charges for which he was convicted in 1979. In the interests of justice, Mr. Strickland’s conviction should be set aside, he should be promptly released, and he deserves public exoneration.”

 

The case was filed directly in the Missouri Supreme Court in part because of confusion regarding whether innocence is enough for a defendant to have their conviction overturned if the defendant was not sentenced to death. In 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court declared innocence was a claim for relief when it vacated the conviction of exoneree Joseph Amrine, who had served 17 years on Missouri’s death row, after finding he was actually innocent. However, in 2016, the Western District Court of Appeals declined to do the same for MIP client Rodney Lincoln, who was not sentenced to death, finding “Because the Missouri Supreme Court has not recognized a freestanding claim of actual innocence in cases where the death penalty has not been imposed, we are not at liberty to expand Missouri habeas jurisprudence to permit consideration of the claim in this case.” Strickland was charged with capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for probation or parole for 50 years.

 

“Innocence should be enough for an individual  to be released from prison, regardless of the sentence,” stated Hoffman. “We are asking the Missouri Supreme Court to clarify once and for all that our legal system cannot tolerate the continued incarceration of any innocent person.”

 

In addition to Rojo Bushnell and Hoffman, Strickland is also represented by attorneys Robert Hansen (MIP), Logan Rutherford (BCLP), and Ben Ford (BCLP). The team was assisted by investigators Blair Johnson (MIP), paralegal Martin Whitehead (BCLP), and former MIP interns Sarah Duggan, Jordan Kurdi, Robert O’Connor, Maryrachel Durso, and the students in the Drake School of Law 2020 Fundamentals of Investigation Course.

 

About the Midwest Innocence Project

The Midwest Innocence Project is a not-for-profit corporation representing people convicted of crimes they did not commit in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and Nebraska, and working to change the system to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. The MIP is a member of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of 68 similar organizations around the world, and is a distinct and separate organization from the Innocence Project connected with the Cardozo School of Law in New York. For more information, please visit www.themip.org.

 

About Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

With over 1,400 lawyers in 30 offices across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is a fully integrated global law firm that provides clients with connected legal advice, wherever and whenever they need it. The firm is known for its relationship-driven, collaborative culture, diverse legal experience and industry-shaping innovation and offers clients one of the most active M&A, real estate, financial services, litigation and corporate risk practices in the world.

 

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MEDIA CONTACTS:
Tricia Rojo Bushnell
805-901-5710
Bob Hoffman
816-374-3229

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