KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The hearing to present evidence of Kevin Strickland’s innocence in a triple homicide in 1978 is again delayed.
The Jackson County prosecutor and court are ready to move forward, but Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is holding it up.
Until recently, there was no legal way in Missouri for local prosecutors to present new evidence to exonerate someone they believe is innocent.
A new law recently passed by the legislature, allowed Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to get a hearing to present what she believes is clear and convincing evidence that Kevin Strickland is innocent of the 1978 triple murder for which he spent more than 40 years in prison.
That hearing would have happened Thursday morning and if a judge agreed, Strickland could have been released as early as Friday. But Schmitt, who supports Strickland’s conviction, filed an emergency petition for more time to prepare.
He also asked that Peters Baker and the Jackson County Court recuse themselves from Strickland’s court proceedings.
Missouri Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, who sponsored the new law, believes Schmitt is overstepping his role under the new law.
“He has the ability to examine witnesses, examine evidence, make his case, petition the court to explain why he believes the person is innocent or not innocent. But the ability to delay and obstruct, which we’ve seen the last few years from him, is not part of the process intentionally because we figured that this would be something that he would try and do.” Rizzo said.
“I believe that he knows that Kevin Strickland is probably going to be exonerated, and I think that there is a strong possibility he is going to lose that high profile case and it will probably hurt his political ambitions.”
Schmitt is currently running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. He would not agree to an interview due to the pending litigation, but the attorney general’s press secretary, Chris Nuelle, sent the following statement:
“Three victims were slain 40 years ago. Kevin Strickland was convicted of those crimes by a jury, and the Supreme Court recently denied his habeas petition. Those victims deserve justice.”
The judge set Sept. 13 for arguments on the motions, further delaying Peters Baker’s opportunity to present evidence of Strickland’s innocence.
“Let us in a courtroom so that we can litigate it there. This is not litigation,” Peters Baker said after court Thursday. “Press releases, pounding your fist that you won something, that’s not litigation. That’s something else. I’m begging for a courtroom and I’m going to keep pushing for that.”
Strickland’s mother died away last week. His attorney said if the evidence hearing had gone forward, Strickland may have been free in time to attend his mother’s funeral.