KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Monday was Kevin Strickland’s 62nd birthday. The Kansas City man has celebrated the last 43 birthdays inside the Western Missouri Corrections Center for a crime prosecutors say he didn’t commit.
“He continues to just keep the fight,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell with Midwest Innocence Project. “This is not certainly his first loss. He’s been fighting to come home and to prove his innocence for four decades. This is just one more time that he’s going to have to keep overcoming to get where he wants to be.”
In 1978, he was accused of a triple homicide in a South Benton home and later convicted. But in 2009, the key witness recanted her testimony, saying she made a mistake.
Two other men who admitted to the crime also say Strickland is innocent. They have both since been released, but Strickland is serving life in prison on capital murder charges.
Despite the evidence, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear his case last week.
Now, a bipartisan group of more than a dozen Missouri lawmakers have signed a letter to Gov. Mike Parson asking him to pardon Strickland. Rep. Patty Lewis from Kansas City is one of them.
“It’s not often that you see we agree on issues, and the fact that both sides of the aisle are willing to work to free this man is a huge deal,” Lewis said. “I think it just also proves his innocence, and we will do anything we can do to try and free him.”
Parson said his office is reviewing the case — among thousands of others.
“We start from the back, going to the more current cases. When something like that happens, we look at those cases,” Parson said. “I don’t know if that necessarily makes it a priority to jump the line or anything like that.”
As Strickland marks his 62nd birthday behind bars, advocates are hoping it’s his last there. The Midwest Innocence Project is raising money to give to Strickland when he’s released.
“When he comes home, he will not be entitled to compensation. Missouri does not have compensation for individuals not exonerated by their DNA evidence,” Bushnell said. “So that means he’ll need something to get back on his feet or at least start the life that he wasn’t able to have.”
Lewis hopes the battle Strickland has faced to be released will help reinforce the need for further criminal justice reform.
“I just hope that we can move towards criminal justice reform in the whole,” Lewis said. “There’s really no reason for innocent people being in prison — and especially for over 40 years.”
If Parson signs the police reform bill that’s currently on his desk, it will clear the way for Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to petition the courts for Strickland’s innocence. If Parson signs the bill, it will be effective Aug. 28.