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Kansas City inmate Kevin Strickland has been exonerated after a Missouri judge overturned his 1979 conviction for a triple homicide on Tuesday. Retired Missouri Judge James Welsh ordered the 62-year-old, who spent 43 years in prison, be immediately released.
Welsh ruled that Strickland’s conviction should be overturned since it was not based on physical evidence but on eye-witness testimony from Cynthia Douglas, the sole survivor of the shooting, who later recanted her account.
“It is important to recognize when the system has made wrongs and what we did in this case was wrong,” Missouri prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker said in October.
During his time in prison, Strickland has maintained that he was not involved in the triple homicide.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with these murders. By no means was I anywhere close to that crime scene,” Strickland insisted in October during an evidentiary hearing, according to CBS affiliate KCTV.
The triple homicideon April 25, 1978. Douglas was drinking and smoking with Larry Ingram, 21, John Walker, 20, and Sherrie Black, 22, at a house that was a popular hangout spot when four men entered the house and shot them. Only Douglas survived and later agreed with police that Strickland could have been one of the men, picking him out of a lineup.
His first trial ended with a hung jury, but a second trial and jury found Strickland guilty of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without parole.
In 1979, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins confessed to being part of the group that committed the murders and told police that Strickland was not involved, according to court filings. Douglas also told multiple family members and friends that she wrongly identified Strickland. She even sent a message to the Midwest Innocence Project, according to court filings.
Douglas died in 2015 but Peters-Baker used her multiple recantations in the appeal as evidence Strickland was wrongly convicted. Now, he is a free man.
“I’ve been in prison for 43 years. Yeah, it’s tough, it’s real tough,” Stricklandin October. “It hurts. You know, I can’t get I can’t get that 43 back. There’s nothing that they could do to make that right. My whole life is a memory of prison. I don’t know anything else.”