Kevin Strickland, 62, was exonerated Tuesday morning after serving decades at Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri. Strickland was convicted in 1979 of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder in a triple homicide. He received a 50-year life sentence without the possibility for parole for a crime that, over the years, he maintained he had not been involved in.
Senior Judge James Welsh dismissed all criminal counts against Strickland. His release makes his confinement the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri history and one of the longest in the nation, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.
The Midwest Innocence Project created a GoFundMe account to help Strickland restart his life, since he doesn’t qualify for help from the state of Missouri.
In Missouri, only those exonerated through DNA testing are eligible for a $50 per day of post-conviction confinement, according to the Innocence Project. That was not the case for Strickland.
As of Thursday evening, donations for Strickland had topped $1 million.
The fund was created over the summer with a goal of raising $7,500, which the fund says would amount to approximately $175 dollars for every year Strickland spent wrongfully convicted.
Thirty-six states and Washington, DC, have laws on the books that offer compensation for exonerees, according to the Innocence Project. The federal standard to compensate those who are wrongfully convicted is a minimum of $50,000 per year of incarceration, plus an additional amount for each year spent on death row.
Adjusting to a new world
Strickland said he learned of his release through a breaking news report that interrupted the soap opera he was watching Tuesday.
The first thing he did after his release was visit his mother’s grave.
“To know my mother was underneath that dirt and I hadn’t gotten a chance to visit with her in the last years … I revisited those tears that I did when they told me I was guilty of a crime I didn’t commit,” Strickland told CNN’s Brianna Keilar Wednesday.
His first night out of prison was a restless one, where thoughts of returning to prison, among others, kept him awake, he said Wednesday.
“I’m used to living in a close, confined cell where I know exactly what’s going on in there with me,” he said. “And being home and you hear the creaks of the home settling and the electrical wiring and whatever else … I was kind of afraid. I thought somebody was coming to get me.”
Convicted as a teenager, exonerated as an adult
Four people were shot in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 25, 1978, resulting in three deaths, according to CNN affiliate KSHB. The only survivor of the crime, Cynthia Douglas, who died in 2015, testified in 1978 that Strickland was at the scene of the triple murder.
Douglas sustained a shotgun injury and told police then that Vincent Bell and Kiln Adkins were two of the perpetrators. But she did not identify Strickland, who she knew, as being at the scene until a day later, according to KSHB, after it was suggested to her Strickland’s hair matched Douglas’ description of the shooter. Douglas claimed her initial failure to identify him was due to the use of cognac and marijuana, according to KSHB.
But for the past 30 years, she has been saying that she made a mistake and falsely identified Strickland. According to KSHB, Douglas made efforts to free Strickland through the Midwest Innocence Project.
The two assailants she identified at the scene both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and each ended up serving about 10 years in prison for the crimes, according to Strickland’s attorney, Robert Hoffman.