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The Missouri Attorney General’s Office on Monday said it believes longtime inmate Kevin Strickland is guilty of killing three people in Kansas City and should remain in prison, despite several other prosecutors saying they believe he is innocent.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Clarke argued in a motion filed Monday that Strickland, 62, was given a fair trial in 1979 and has “worked to evade responsibility” for the Kansas City killings since then, The Kansas City Star reported.
Also Monday, Circuit Judge Ryan Horsman set an evidentiary hearing in Strickland’s case for Aug. 12-13. Horsman will hear arguments from Strickland’s lawyers and the attorney general’s office before deciding whether to free Strickland.
When the attorney general’s attorneys said the quick time frame could be a burden on the office, Horsman noted that Strickland has been “sitting in prison since before I was born.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced in May that her office believed the evidence used to convict Strickland in 1979 has since been “eviscerated.” Federal prosecutors, Jackson County’s presiding judge and members of the team that convicted Strickland agreed he should be exonerated.
When the Missouri Supreme Court declined in June to hear Strickland’s case, his attorneys refiled the case in DeKalb County, where Strickland is imprisoned.
Strickland, who was 18 at the time, was convicted in the April 25, 1978, deaths of John Walker, 20, Sherrie Black, 22, and Larry Ingram, 21.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office argued in Monday’s motion that police said Strickland had offered Cynthia Douglas money the day of the killings to keep “her mouth shut,” which Clarke called a “tampering campaign” by Strickland.
The Jackson County prosecutor’s office said Douglas, the only eyewitness to the killings, later recanted her identification of Strickland before she died in 2015. Her family has signed affidavits for Strickland’s attorneys saying Douglas wanted Strickland released from prison.
But the attorney general’s office said Douglas’ alleged recantation in an email does not name Strickland and the judge can’t know if Douglas sent the email, “let alone absent coercive pressure.” Douglas also did not sign any affidavits while she was alive, Clarke noted.
Two men who later pleaded guilty in the murders, Vincent Bell and Kilm Adkins, have said in affidavits and interviews with The Star that Strickland was not with them and two other accomplices during the killings.
The statements from Bell and Adkins are not new evidence and, even if they were, the two are “inherently unreliable,” Clarke argued in the motion.
Schmitt’s office also said Strickland told police if he had been with Bell that night, he would have been shooting because, “I love to shoot my gun, I’m a good shot and I love to kill people.” Strickland, the detectives alleged, said if they let him go, they better “draw first” next time or he would kill them.
Jackson County prosecutors have said those statements, which Strickland denied making at trial, did not prove Strickland was involved in the killings. They suggested someone not involved in the crime — who stayed in Kansas City while the others fled to Wichita — would be more likely to make “aggressive statements” to police.
“Strickland has paid a steep price for associating with Bell, Adkins and T.A., (another suspect in the case) for mouthing off to police, and for trying to be cool in helping his older neighbor, Bell,” Baker and Nelson wrote in a letter outlining the prosecutor’s office’s review of the case.
If Strickland is not released by Aug. 28, Jackson County prosecutors said they plan to file a motion then asking a Jackson County judge to exonerate him. That’s when a bill, which Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has not yet signed, would allow local prosecutors to seek to free prisoners they have deemed innocent.
Parson could also pardon Strickland but he has said he’s not convinced Strickland is innocent.
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