KANSAS CITY, Mo — It was a big day in court for Kevin Strickland and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
A judge rejected Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s effort to restrict evidence in Strickland’s evidentiary hearing on Thursday.
Peters Baker believes Strickland is innocent of a 1979 triple murder for which he has spent 43 years in prison. A Missouri law passed in April gave her the right to ask the court to vacate Strickland’s guilty verdict, but Schmitt is fighting it.
Strickland’s attorney considers Thursday’s rulings a win.
“The court ruled in in a way that we think is correct,” Bob Hoffman said. “[The rulings] will expand the scope of the hearing in a way that we think is favorable.”
Retired Missouri Appeals Court Judge James Walsh rejected three motions that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office filed.
The first motion was to exclude hearsay evidence. Attorney Andrew Crane argued that only evidence admitted at Strickland’s trial should be considered.
“Would evidence that a jury cannot consider to decide whether Kevin Strickland is guilty of murder be good evidence for this court to consider to decide whether he’s guilty of murder?” he asked.
Walsh decided to look at all of the evidence in the Strickland case instead just evidence admitted in his trial. The judge said he can decide for himself what is relevant and admissible in this upcoming hearing.
Attorney Greg Goodwin argued the second motion to exclude false and apparently perjured evidence.
“There are some serious problems, your honor, with three of the attachments filed in DeKalb County and filed in this case,” Goodwin said.
That motion was also rejected. The judge said witnesses sometimes lie in testimony, and it is for the court to decide what, if any, of the testimony is relevant or true.
The AG’s third motion would have removed Strickland as a party in his exoneration hearing. The AG’s office argued it should represent the state, not Peters Baker, because she is the one who is asking for Strickland’s conviction to be overturned.
“In this case we believe the caption should be Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker versus the state in which Strickland is neither an intervener or unnecessary party,” said Andrew Clarke, attorney with the AG’s office.
That motion was also rejected.
Attorneys for Schmitt and Peters Baker declined to comment outside of court. The evidentiary hearing will begin Monday at 10 a.m.