KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Prosecutors called for the release of a Missouri man who has spent more than 40 years in prison for a triple murder that the prosecutors concluded he didn’t commit, a letter released Monday showed.
The release of the letter, indicating overwhelming support for the release of Kevin Strickland, 62, came after his attorneys filed a petition urging the Missouri Supreme Court to free him immediately, The Kansas City Star reports. In the letter, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and her chief deputy, Dan Nelson, said the evidence used to convict Strickland as a teenager has since been “eviscerated.”
Federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri, Jackson County’s presiding judge, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and members of the team that convicted Strickland four decades ago also now all agree that he deserves to be exonerated.
“This is a profound error we must correct now,” Baker said in the letter.
Strickland remains at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron. If he is exonerated, he will have suffered the longest wrongful imprisonment known in Missouri history.
Strickland, of Kansas City, was 18 when he was arrested, and prosecutors say the case was “thin from its inception,” resting almost entirely on the dubious identification of a traumatized shooting victim. Prosecutors said they wouldn’t charge Strickland with any crimes if the same case was before them today.
The Star reported in investigation published in September that for decades, two men who pleaded guilty in the killings swore Strickland was not with them and two other accomplices during the April 25, 1978, killings.
The testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the only eyewitness to the murders who herself was shot, was crucial. However, she later said detectives pressured her into identifying him, The Star reported. She tried to recant for years before dying in 2015.
Prosecutors at trial claimed Strickland carried a shotgun during the murders and elicited testimony that no fingerprints on the weapon could be compared. But new forensic testing done this year shows one fingerprint found on the gun is not Strickland’s.
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office began reviewing Strickland’s conviction in November after speaking with his lawyers and reviewing The Star’s investigation. Strickland’s case was the first tied to the murders to go to court.
The killings occurred when a group of assailants ransacked a Kansas City home. Larry Ingram, 21; Douglas’ boyfriend, John Walker, 20; and Douglas’ best friend, Sherrie Black, 22, were each fatally shot. Douglas was wounded but pretended to be dead.