Man Wants Exoneration in Triple Murder After Prosecutor Says He Was Wrongfully Convicted

A Kansas City, Missouri, man who has been in prison since 1979 is seeking exoneration for a triple murder for which many people, even a prosecutor, says he was wrongfully convicted, the Associated Press reported.

Attorneys for Kevin Strickland began arguing his case Monday in an evidentiary hearing after legal procedures and canceled hearings resulted in months of delays.

Strickland, 62, has lived most of his life in prison after his conviction for the fatal shootings of Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22, in Kansas City on April 25, 1978. He has always maintained he is innocent, saying that he was watching television at home at the time of the killings when he was 18 years old, the AP said.

Strickland said during the hearing Monday that he had "absolutely nothing to do with these murders" and had been working to regain his freedom ever since being found guilty. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who asserts Strickland was convicted wrongfully, said that the evidence used against him has either been recanted or disproven since his trial.

"This is a triple murder in which three young people were executed," Peters Baker said Monday. "The tragedy was made much, much worse by Kevin Strickland's conviction."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Convicted Man Seeks Exoneration
Attorneys for a Kansas City, Missouri, man who has spent more than 40 years in prison for a triple murder will argue Monday that their client should be exonerated. Above, Kevin Strickland in an interview room at Western Missouri Correctional Center on November 5, 2019, in Cameron, Missouri. James Wooldridge/The Kansas City Star via AP

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, has said he believes Strickland is guilty of the murders.

Andrew Clarke, an assistant prosecutor in the Attorney General's office, said in his opening statement that evidence existed to show Strickland was guilty. Assistant prosecutor Christine Krug was cross-examining Strickland Monday afternoon.

Strickland, a Black man, saw his first trial end 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.

In May, Peters Baker announced that she and other legal and political leaders believed Strickland was wrongfully convicted. She said the evidence used to convict him had been recanted or disproven since his trial.

Two other men convicted in the killings later insisted that Strickland wasn't at the crime scene, The Kansas City Star reported. And before she died, the only eyewitness to the killings recanted her testimony that Strickland was the shooter.

Attorneys for Strickland and the Attorney General's office indicated during opening statements that the statements from Douglas identifying Strickland as the shooter would be central to determining Strickland's fate.

On Monday, 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 said he went to the scene at the request of a friend who was the sister of Vincent Bell, who was later convicted in the killings along with Strickland. He said he cooperated with officers at the scene and later at the police station because he "knew the system worked and I would not be convicted of something I didn't do."

Strickland, who has spinal stenosis, watched the testimony from a wheelchair. Before the hearing began, he told reporters he was "scared."

In June, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear Strickland's petition. Republican Governor Mike Parson also refused to pardon Strickland, saying he wasn't convinced that Strickland was innocent.

Hearings were scheduled in August in DeKalb County, where Strickland is imprisoned. Those hearings were canceled after Peters Baker used a new state law to seek an evidentiary hearing in Jackson County, where Strickland was convicted. The law allows local prosecutors to challenge convictions if they believe the defendant did not commit the crime.

A hearing scheduled for September 2 was delayed after Schmitt's office sought more time for the court to hear several motions his office filed in the case.

Schmitt sought to have all 16th Circuit judges in Jackson County recused from presiding over the evidentiary hearing because the presiding judge in that circuit had said he agreed that Strickland was wrongfully convicted.

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled September 30 that the Jackson County judges should be recused from the hearing to avoid any suggestions of impropriety or bias, delaying another hearing. Retired Senior Judge James Welsh was then appointed to preside over the case.

Strickland Attorney Argues at Hearing
Attorneys for Kevin Strickland began arguing his case Monday in an evidentiary hearing after legal procedures and canceled hearings resulted in months of delays. Attorney Robert Hoffman argues a point on behalf of Kevin Strickland during a September 13 hearing in Jackson County Circuit Court in Kansas City, Missouri. Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star via AP