CAMERON, MO (KCTV) -- Kevin Strickland left the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, MO a free man after spending 43 years locked up for a crime that a judge agrees he did not commit.
Judge James Welsh released his decision on Tuesday and ordered that the “State of Missouri shall immediately discharge Kevin Bernard Strickland from its custody.”
Strickland said he first learned of the decision while watching a soap opera on TV inside the prison. He was the breaking news alert. Then he heard everyone inside the prison screaming and hollering. Within hours, he was in front of reporters that were waiting outside the prison.
“I didn’t think this day would come,” said Strickland. “Not before I got this legal team, I didn’t.”
Strickland also thanked the judge. The judge cited the lack of evidence against Strickland for his decision. He also stated that the recantations eyewitness Cynthia Douglas made to her family and friends were reliable, numerous and consistent.
“Thank you for reviewing all the new evidence that was against me to begin with,” Strickland said. “I really appreciate you taking the time to listen and understand what really happened in 1978.”
And finally, he thanked Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker—even joked that some of the those in the prison he just left might not have those same feelings for her. But she was able to get his case back to court because of a new Missouri law allowing prosecutors to revisit wrongful convictions and take them back to court.
This was the first such case since the law took effect last summer. Attorney Lindsay Runnels said this case was closely watched. She is an attorney for Lamar Johnson. Johnson was convicted in a St. Louis murder and has maintained his innocence.
“It was a shocking issue when Lamar Johnson remained in custody when the prosecutor was standing up saying, ‘I have found evidence of innocence. I want to do something’ and then to be told there's no route for you,” said Runnels.
But she is encouraged by today’s decision.
“It was the right thing to happen,” said Runnels. But adds, “We should do better. (It) shouldn't take this many resources. It shouldn't take this much time. Once we have clear evidence of innocence. It should be quick, it should be efficient, and it should be something that we can do in agreement with all parties that are reasonable.”
And while Strickland is a free man tonight, his freedom is all he will get from the state. He will not get any compensation from the mistake that was made.
The state only allows compensation for those exonerated through a very specific procedure. The person has to request DNA testing and that DNA testing is what leads to the evidenced that proves their innocence. Strickland doesn’t qualify for Social Security either because he hasn’t had a job.
A GoFundMe account has been established for Kevin Strickland by the Midwest Innocence Project. That fund has more than doubled today.