Missouri man acquitted after 43 years in prison visits mother’s grave

Charles O’Rear, Getty Images

  • A 62-year-old man was acquitted after 43 years in prison.
  • He visited his mother’s grave on his first day of freedom.
  • He was one of the longest serving wrongly convicted inmates in the US.

A 62-year-old African-American man who spent decades behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit visited his mother’s grave on his first day of freedom – a day he thought would never come.

Kevin Strickland, convicted by an all-white jury in 1979 of a triple murder in Kansas City, Missouri, was released with immediate effect on Tuesday after 43 years in prison.

“I didn’t think this day would come,” the bearded and feared Strickland, who is in a wheelchair, told reporters after his release.

His first stop was the grave of his mother, who died in August and suffered from dementia towards the end of her life.

“I looked back at those tears I had that day when they told me I was guilty of crimes I didn’t commit,” Strickland told CNN. “To know that my mom was covered in dirt and that I hadn’t had a chance to visit her in years past.

“A lot of things have come out,” he said.

I talked to her for a while. I believe she can feel me, hear me, I do.

Strickland had declared his innocence since he was arrested for the 1978 murders, and the Jackson County prosecutor’s office agreed earlier this year that he had been wrongly convicted.

After reviewing the case, Judge James Welsh ordered that Strickland be released on Tuesday.

Strickland’s acquittal after 43 years behind bars makes him one of the longest serving wrongfully convicted inmates in the United States, according to the National Registry of Exoneerations maintained by several US law schools.

‘I believe I can surf’

Strickland told CNN that he now wants to visit the ocean. “Not just seeing, but stepping in,” he said. “That would be a big win.

“God created a big problem there when he threw all that water out there,” he said.

“I think anyone still alive should want to see the ocean before they pass, once in a lifetime.”

Strickland said that as a teenager he “was big on swimming” and that he wants to feel the “power of the water”.

“I’m 62 and I believe I can surf if they get me out of this chair,” he said.

Strickland was convicted after a second trial – the first ended in a mistrial – on April 25, 1978, for the murder of three people who were tied up and shot.

The sole survivor, Cynthia Douglas, identified Strickland as one of the four men who carried out the shooting, but later recanted her testimony.

Two of the men convicted of the murders said Strickland was not involved and identified two other men as participants.

There was also no evidence that Strickland was associated with the crime and he provided an alibi for where he was at the time.

“Strickland was convicted only on the eyewitness testimony of Douglas, who subsequently retracted her statements,” the judge said.

Under these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s conviction has been so undermined that it cannot stand, and the conviction must be quashed.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker welcomes the decision.

“This brings justice — finally — to a man who has tragically suffered so much as a result of this wrongful conviction,” Baker said in a statement.

Midwest Innocence Project

Strickland’s case was defended by The Midwest Innocence Project at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law after it received a notice from Douglas in 2009.

Strickland is not eligible for compensation under Missouri law, but a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign set up for Strickland by the Midwest Innocence Project, which advocates for the wrongfully convicted, has raised more than $322,000.

Strickland’s release comes just days after a New York judge dismissed the convictions of two men jailed for decades for the 1965 murder of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

Four black men known as the “Groveland Four” who were accused of raping a white woman in Florida more than 70 years ago were also acquitted this week.

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