Strickland was quietly watching a soap opera in the Western Missouri Prison yesterday, when a news report suddenly appeared: Kevin Strickland, now 62, will be released soon.
The other prisoners immediately started screaming and cheering, he tells a group of American reporters. “I didn’t think this day would come. I’m still in disbelief.”
The black man was found guilty by an all-white jury in 1978 for committing the triple murder of three twenty-somethings. This despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene. Many in the black community at the time were convinced that his swift conviction was racist.
In addition, his family provided alibis and even the killers – who confessed in 1979 – said Strickland had nothing to do with the murders. Yet Strickland was convicted, and that was because of Cynthia Douglas’ testimony. She was the sole survivor and eyewitness in the case. She testified that she saw Strickland at the crime scene. This Douglas later tried several times to withdraw her testimony, because she would have been pressured by the police.
Due to a local amendment to the law, Strickland’s appeal could not be filed until years later. “Under these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s conviction has been so undermined that it cannot stand, and the verdict must be quashed,” Judge James Welsh wrote yesterday. “The State of Missouri will immediately release Kevin Bernard Strickland from custody.”
Strickland has since been released, but he had no immediate answer to the inevitable question of what he will do first after his release. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” he said. “But I have some ideas to prevent this from happening to anyone else.” He addressed other wrongly convicted inmates and said they should never give up. Strickland wants to talk to lawmakers to change the legal system.
The 62-year-old American was the longest unjustly imprisoned in Missouri history. Lawyers for the Midwest Innocence Project, who have worked for the past few months to free Strickland, were “frantic” when they heard the news, they tell the BBC.
The lawyers consider the chance that Strickhard will receive compensation is unlikely. In Missouri, only inmates acquitted through DNA evidence are financially compensated. “He will not get back the past 43 years and he will return home to a state that will not pay him a cent for the time it stole from him,” Midwest Innocence Project legal director Tricia Rojo Bushnell told the British broadcaster. “That’s not justice.”