Kevin Strickland, the 62-year-old Missouri man who spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder he says he had nothing to with, had his conviction set aside by a judge on Tuesday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced.
According to CNN, Strickland was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years after he was found guilty of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of three people in 1978. Strickland had maintained his innocence despite his conviction.
Following the ruling, the criminal charges that were brought against Strickland in connection with the triple murder were subsequently dismissed. And Strickland, who now uses a wheelchair, was eventually released from custody on Tuesday afternoon.
Following his release, Strickland expressed his gratitude to his legal team and the people who granted him audience while he tried clearing his name over the years.
“Still in disbelief,” said Strickland. “I didn’t think this day would come.” The 62-year-old also said he learned he had gained his freedom after a soap opera he was watching was interrupted with a news flash of the ruling, CNN reported.
“To say we’re extremely pleased and grateful is an understatement,” Peters Baker said. “This brings justice — finally — to a man who has tragically suffered so, so greatly as a result of this wrongful conviction.”
Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, a three-day evidentiary hearing was held around the beginning of November, and Strickland testified. During that hearing, Strickland’s attorneys also presented evidence and arguments to prove their client was innocent.
Per KSHB, Strickland was convicted after he was accused of being involved in a shooting incident on April 25, 1978, that left three people dead. Cynthia Douglas, who testified during the 1978 trial, was the only person among the four victims to have survived the shootings. Douglas testified Strickland was at the crime scene when the incident occurred.
And though Douglas also identified two assailants for their involvement in the shootings, she did not identify Strickland. That was despite the fact that Strickland wasn’t a stranger to her. Douglas, who passed away in 2015, however, identified Strickland the next day. But that was after she was told Strickland’s hair seemingly matched her description of the person who opened fire on them. Douglas also claimed her inability to identify Strickland earlier was because she had consumed cognac and marijuana, KSHB reported.
Over the last three decades, however, Douglas reportedly admitted she erred and wrongly identified Strickland. She also helped in trying to get Strickland subsequently released through the Midwest Innocence Project.
Strickland’s attorney, Robert Hoffman, said the two other suspects Douglas identified – Vincent Bell and Kiln Adkins – spent about 10 years behind bars in connection with the killings after they pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Following his release, Strickland said he’ll be interested in being part of initiatives that “keep this from happening to someone else,” adding that the criminal justice system “needs to be torn down and redone”, USA Today reported.
Meanwhile, the Midwest Innocence Project has set up a GoFundMe to raise funds to help Strickland “establish himself in a home and provide for his basic needs.” The organization stated Strickland will not be receiving any compensation from the state.