Kevin Strickland, 62, has always maintained that he was home watching television and had nothing to do with the killings, which happened when he was 18 years old. He was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders.
Judge James Welsh ruled after a three-day evidentiary hearing that he was wrongfully convicted in 1979.
In speaking to reporters as he left the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Strickland said he would like to get involved in efforts to “keep this from happening to someone else,” saying the criminal justice system “needs to be torn down and redone.”
Welsh wrote in his judgement that “clear and convincing evidence” was presented that “undermines the Court’s confidence in the judgement of conviction.” He noted that no physical evidence linked Strickland to the crime scene and that a key witness recanted before her death.
“Under these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s convictions is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside,” Welsh wrote in ordering Strickland’s immediate release.
also noted that two other men convicted in the killings later insisted Strickland wasn’t involved. They named two other suspects who were never charged.
During his testimony, Strickland denied suggestions that he offered Douglas $300 to “keep her mouth shut,” and said he had never visited the house where the murders occurred before they happened.
Strickland is Black, and his first trial ended in a hung jury when the only Black juror, a woman, held out for acquittal. After his second trial in 1979, he was convicted by an all-white jury of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
“Even when the prosecutor is on your side, it took months and months for Mr. Strickland to come home and he still had to come home to a system that will not provide him any compensation for the 43 years he lost,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, who stood by Strickland’s side as he was released.