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After Serving 42 Years In Prison For 3 Murders, Kevin Strickland Takes The Stand During Hearing That Could Free Him
Kevin Strickland was still a teenager when he was convicted of murdering three people. His freedom now hinges on the testimony of a witness who died six years ago.
After serving more than 40 years behind bars for three murders he has long maintained he didn't commit, Kevin Strickland was wheeled into a Missouri courtroom on Monday and testified in the evidentiary hearing that may finally lead to his freedom.
Strickland was the first witness to testify in what’s expected to be a week-long hearing, according to local news outlet KCTV. He now suffers from spinal stenosis, which severely limits his ability to stand or walk.
"I had absolutely nothing to do with these murders. By no means was I anywhere close to that crime scene," Strickland said according to CBS News.
Forty-three years ago, four suspects tied up and shot four victims in Kansas City. Cynthia Douglas, then 20, was among those shot, but she survived by pretending to be dead, according to the Kansas City Star. Douglas later identified Strickland as one of the shooters. Now that testimony is a central issue to Strickland's bid for freedom.
In 1979, Strickland, now 62, was convicted in the fatal shootings of Larry Ingram, 21, John Walker, 20 and Sherrie Black, 22 in Kansas City. He was sentenced to life in prison, but always denied any involvement in the crimes.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker claims that Strickland was wrongfully convicted and that key testimony and evidence used to convict him has since been called into question.
"This is a triple murder in which three young people were executed," Peters Baker said Monday,” according to CBS News. “The tragedy was made much, much worse by Kevin Strickland's conviction."
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt maintains that Strickland is guilty and vigorously sought to delay the evidentiary hearing.
Douglas' testimony, and her later actions haunt this case. She died in 2015 at the age of 57 of complications from heart disease, according to the Kansas City Star.
Strickland’s supporters argue that Douglas recanted her testimony and said she identified the wrong person, but the Attorney General’s Office disagrees.
Andrew Clarke, an assistant prosecutor with the Attorney General’s office, said that recorded telephone calls between Douglas and her husband, who was then in prison, prove that she was not trying to prove Strickland’s innocence, according to CBS News.
Three of Douglas’s relatives and a former co-worker testified Monday that she told them repeatedly over the years that she had identified the wrong person, according to the Kansas City Star.
Her sister, Cecile “Cookie” Simmons said that her sister contacted several high-profile figures including a judge, a civil-rights leader, and a former Missouri governor, to get Strickland’s case back in court, but no one would listen to her, the paper reported.
“She said, ‘Mother, I picked the wrong guy,” Douglas’ mother, Senoria Douglas, testified. “She was very disturbed about it.”
Douglas’s daughter, Sherri Jordan, testified that her mother told her on multiple occasions that she had identified the wrong person. Jordan said that she felt rushed and pressed by the police to identify Strickland, according to Kansas City Star.
“She started saying (that) Kevin Strickland was the wrong guy. And she was trying to get him out, by going through the right procedures,” Jordan said, according to KCTV.
Clarke said there was other evidence connecting Strickland to the murders. He said one of Strickland’s fingerprints was found on a car used during the murders. It was owned by Vincent Bell, who pleaded guilty to the murders, CBS News reported.
But Strickland testified that he frequently acted as a chauffeur for Bell because the latter didn’t have a driver’s license. He also testified that he gave some shotgun shells to Bell at least two to three weeks before the murders. He said Bell wanted to test a shotgun. Strickland said he had no idea they were be used in the killings.
Strickland also denied a claim that he offered Douglas $300 to “keep her mouth shut.”
The Kansas City Star also reported that Strickland said he once had a telephone call with Douglas, and she “immediately apologized” to him. Strickland said he told her that she needed to sign an affidavit.
The Attorney General’s office noted that Douglas never signed an affidavit before her death.