KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A judge ruled Tuesday that a Missouri man can walk free after being imprisoned for 43 years for a murder he did not commit — the longest sentence served of any wrongfully convicted person in Missouri's history.
Kevin Strickland was arrested and charged with a triple murder connected to an April 1978 shooting that left three people dead. A year later, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison by an all-white jury.
Strickland's conviction came only after an initial trial ended in a hung jury — something the prosecution blamed on the inclusion of a Black juror.
Strickland's trial was based heavily on the testimony of the lone survivor of the shooting, Cynthia Douglas. But as the decades progressed, Douglas began to realize she had identified the wrong man as the shooter.
In February 2009, Douglas began the process of freeing Strickland when she sent an email to the Midwest Innocence Project.
Douglas died in 2015 after a prolonged illness.
In recent evidentiary hearings in Strickland's legal case, his lawyers called multiple witnesses to the stand, many of whom were Douglas' family and friends. Each recalled times when Douglas told them she'd chosen the wrong man in 1978.
Testimony from a memory and identification expert further showed how Douglas's initial identification of Strickland could have been wrong. Dr. Nancy Franklin testified that the trauma of the crime, a poorly selected lineup and influence from those around her contributed to Douglas' misidentification of Strickland as the man who held the shotgun in April 1978.
The Missouri Attorney General's office had argued that Strickland's conviction should stand, saying that Douglas' recantations were nothing but "hearsay" and did not meet the standard needed to clear a conviction.
Ultimately, Judge James Welsh, who had been specially appointed to the case by the Supreme Court of Missouri, ruled Strickland could be freed.
This story was originally published by Hailey Godburn on Scripps station KSHB in Kansas City, Missouri.