New hearing date set in Jackson County prosecutor’s bid to free Kevin Strickland

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kevin Strickland has a hearing date once again. But it’s not as soon as the Jackson County prosecutor, who says his murder conviction should be thrown out, had hoped for.

Before there can be an evidentiary hearing, now set for Nov. 8, a new judge had to determine if the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which has already offered legal challenges delaying the case, can do interviews and lab testing of its own to try to keep Kevin Strickland behind bars.

A new Missouri State statute that went into effect Aug. 28 lets prosecutors file motions to have convictions thrown out if there’s clear and convincing evidence they wronged someone behind bars. That’s what Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker did at first opportunity in the case of Kevin Strickland.

“At the end of the day the question is is this a criminal case or a civil case. The answer we think it’s still a criminal case,” said Chip Robertson, an attorney and former Missouri Supreme Court Justice working on the behalf of the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Attorneys for Strickland argue the prosecutor’s office has turned over all evidence and statements to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office who they contend have had 43 years to investigate his case and defend against appeals since his murder conviction.

The Attorney General’s Office successfully had all 16th Circuit judges ruled ineligible for the case in an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court last month. On Friday they asked newly appointed Judge James Welsh for time to interview witnesses and to submit fingerprints to the Kansas City Crime Lab for testing. Prosecutors say further testing is unnecessary.

“Now the conclusive evidence of the fingerprints shows Kevin Strickland could not have been holding the shotgun, at least that’s our position. And as a result, everything Cynthia Douglas said, whose the only one who puts him there, can’t be believed,” Robertson said.

Prosecutors plan to offer evidence Douglas has since recanted those statements at the hearing.

“What is the truth of the prosecutor’s allegations? The way to prove that is to have contested meaningful hearings,” Andrew Crane, Assistant Attorney General, said.

Judge James Welsh agreed saying post conviction proceedings should follow civil discovery rules, not criminal as the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office had hoped. But he did encourage all parties to work together to accomplish discovery quickly before setting a Nov. 8 hearing that could determine Strickland’s freedom.

The November date, however, is tentative. The AG’s office says it sees potential delays on getting the fingerprint evidence done in time and working with Colorado’s prison system to interview a witness.

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