Released a prisoner in the US after spending 43 years in jail by mistake | International


Kevin Strickland, 62, after being released on Tuesday.
Kevin Strickland, 62, after being released on Tuesday.Rich Sugg (AP)

Kevin Strickland was sentenced to life imprisonment when he was 19 years old for a triple murder that occurred in Kansas City in 1978. At the age of 62, and after spending 43 of them behind bars, a judge in the State of Missouri has acquitted this African-American this Tuesday for considering that a judicial error had been made. Strickland is the longest-serving inmate by mistake in prison in Missouri and one of the longest-serving wrongfully incarcerated in United States history.

In his ruling, Magistrate James Welsh concludes that there was “no physical evidence directly implicating Strickland” in the April 25, 1978 murder of Sherrie Black, Larry Ingram and John Walker in Kansas City, who were tied up and shot by a group of four people.

“Strickland was convicted solely on the testimony of a witness, [Cinthya] Douglas, who later renounced his statements, in which he had identified him as one of the four perpetrators “of the crime, Welsh argues in his resolution. Consequently, the judge requested “the immediate release” of the prisoner.

Strickland’s first trial was void, as the only African-American member of the jury did not find him guilty. In a second trial, in which the jury was made up entirely of whites, the then 19-year-old was found guilty. Strickland, who was arrested when his daughter was just seven weeks old, has always proclaimed her innocence.

Both one of the survivors of the crime, Cinthya Douglas, and one of its authors, Vincent Bell, said on several occasions that the wrong man was in prison. In Douglas’s case, a lawyer told this woman, who died in 2015, not to try to reopen the case or else she would be charged with perjury.

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Just four months after Strickland entered prison, Bell said in court that Douglas “had made a hell of a mistake” by mistaking Strickland for another teenager who was part of the former’s group. Bell insisted several times during his trial that Strickland was never at the crime scene.

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Quoted by the newspaper The Washington Post, LR Strickland, brother of the released prisoner, relates that the verdict at the time did not surprise him given the situation of violence and animosity towards blacks that existed in Kansas City and his enthusiasm for “biblical justice.” “I think this city wanted someone to be responsible,” he said. “I just know that I was greatly relieved that my brother was not sentenced to death.”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, of the universities of Irvine in California and Michigan, cited by the agency France Presse, some 2,500 people acquitted by justice in the last 30 years have spent an average of almost 14 years in prison, with a maximum 47 years and 2 months.

Finally, Douglas, the woman who survived the crime, wrote an email in 2009 to the Midwest Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that helps individuals who have been wrongly convicted. In that email, Douglas requested information on how to help “someone wrongly accused.” “This happened in 1978, I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and I want to help this person if I can.”

When Strickland learned that Douglas died without ever formally retracting the testimony that landed him in prison, he felt that the possibility of being exonerated disappeared forever. Since this Tuesday, Strickland is a free man who has declared to the Washington newspaper that his two wishes were to go to the grave of his mother, who died this summer, and see the sea, for the first time in his life.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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