KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Released after spending more than 40 years in prison, Kevin Strickland’s wrongful conviction case is bringing the topic of wrongful convictions to the forefront, not only locally, but also nationally.
Less than a week since Strickland was released from prison, activists and family members are hitting the streets and calling for justice in other wrongful conviction cases.
“When I first started the KC Freedom Project, we could hardly get any coverage, we could not get any help, there were wrongful convictions that existed, but people were quiet about it, because they really didn’t know what to do. I’m glad too, we are able to come together, create opportunities for families to have their cases spoke out about and awareness brought to the cases,” said Latahra Smith, with the KC Freedom Project.
A rally was held outside Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s Kansas City office Monday, who the group is specifically targeting.
“The Missouri Attorney General’s duty is to seek justice, not to defend prior convictions. They have an ethical responsibility to uphold the constitutional rights of others. Their role is to see that justice is done. It is wrong for the Missouri attorney general to uphold wrongful convictions when evidence of innocence exists,” Smith said.
The group said they are advocating for all wrongly convicted people in Missouri, who have yet to have their moment.
“1990 was our last Thanksgiving together,” said Cliff Middleton. “People don’t realize what this does to family members out here on the outside as well, we are all harmed by it.”
Middleton’s father, Ken Middleton, serving time for the death of his wife. A murder he maintains he did not commit.
“Only a jurisdictional technicality that the attorney general used is keeping my father in prison. I am hopeful that Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker will see that and file the motion. Let my father have his case heard again,” Middleton said.
In July, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 53 into law.
Part of the new law allows prosecutors to go before a judge and have convictions of people wrongly imprisoned thrown out.
This is what Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker used to seek the evidentiary hearing for Kevin Strickland.
Many families hope this will be a gateway to freedom.
“My brother was incarcerated when he was 19 years old, my brother is now 50 years old,” said brother of Michael Silas, Eric Silas. “Every appeal that my brother had, has been denied, us as a family, we get no calls back.”
The case of Michael Silas is also gaining momentum after discovery of new evidence and a witness, crucial in the 1991 murder case, has recanted.
“If my brother doesn’t get his case heard, he can spend the rest of his life in prison, that’s not right,” Silas said. Kevin Strickland gives us a little hope and fell like maybe we do have a chance for a lot of the people who are trying to get out and make a positive impact in their communities.”
A spokesperson for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office said “we have acknowledged an increase in inquiries about such cases” but did not comment further on the matter.
The KC Freedom Project plans to hold their next rally in Jefferson City. They are also requesting a sit-down discussion with Schmitt and Peters Baker.
“Here in the state of Missouri, innocence isn’t enough, and it should be,” Smith said. “It needs to be addressed. It’s really, really wrong what’s going on.”