A Kansas City man who has spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder was wrongly convicted and should be released, prosecutors said this week.
Kevin Strickland, 61, was acquitted in his first 1979 trial, but a jury convicted him of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder two months later, the Kansas City Star reported.
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office started looking at the convictions in November after the newspaper reported that two men who pleaded guilty in the April 1978 slayings said Strickland was not with them at the time.
That led to a review that culminated Monday with prosecutors calling for Strickland to be immediately released since the case relied heavily on the testimony of a now-deceased witness who tried to recant her mistaken identification before she died in 2015.
If ultimately exonerated, he will have served the longest wrongful conviction imprisonment in state history, the Star reported.
The “tainted identification” by Cynthia Douglas, who was also shot during the slayings, was the only direct evidence linking Strickland to the triple murder, his attorneys told the Star.
During Strickland’s trial, prosecutors claimed he had a shotgun, but no fingerprints on the weapon could be compared. New forensic testing, however, shows that one fingerprint on the gun does not belong to Strickland, prosecutors said.
“All those who have reviewed the evidence in recent months agree — Kevin Strickland deserves to be exonerated,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement Monday. “This is a profound error we must correct now.”
Douglas contacted the Midwest Innocence Project in February 2009 to say she wanted to help Strickland, prosecutors said.
“I was the only witness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can,” Douglas wrote.
Baker held a press conference Monday with Strickland’s attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project in support of their call to release him from prison.
“Keeping him incarcerated now on a jury verdict, where the jury heard none of this convincing exculpatory evidence, serves no conceivably just purpose,” Baker and Chief Deputy Daniel Nelson wrote in a letter to Strickland’s attorneys.
Strickland has long maintained his innocence in the killings. Prosecutors said the co-defendants have also admitted their guilt and insisted Strickland did not participate in the April 1978 slayings.
A third man suspected in the murders who was never charged also says Strickland wasn’t there, the Star reported.
Strickland remained in custody Tuesday at the Western Missouri Correctional Center, where he’s serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 50 years, records show.