Sunday, April 14, 2024

US$1.5m raised to help exonerated man in Missouri

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Washington – A fundraiser set up to help a Missouri man who served more than 42 years in jail for a triple murder he did not commit has reached US$1.5m (£1.1m).

Kevin Strickland was freed on Tuesday at the age of 62. He had maintained his innocence since his arrest at 18.

It was the longest wrongful incarceration in state history, but under Missouri law he is not entitled to receive any financial compensation.

So his lawyers launched a GoFundMe page to help with his living expenses.

As of Sunday, it had reached US$1 511 440.

Lawyers for the Midwest Innocence Project, who worked for months to help free Strickland, praised the more than 27 000 strangers who had donated.

The state of Missouri only compensates prisoners exonerated through DNA evidence, not because of eyewitness testimony, his lawyers said.

“Until the system has changed where the system is failing, the community is stepping in to fix it, to fill the void,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell.

A judge on Tuesday ordered Strickland’s immediate release from state custody, after 15 487 days behind bars.

He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years after he was linked to the deadly ransacking of a home in Kansas City on April 25, 1978.

On that night, four assailants shot three people inside the home: Sherrie Black, 22, Larry Ingram, 22, and John Walker, 20.

A fourth victim – Cynthia Douglas, 20 – escaped with injuries after pretending to be dead. On a hunch from her sister’s boyfriend, police arrested the teenage Strickland and then reportedly pressured Douglas to pick him out of a line-up.

Strickland told police he had been at home watching television. No physical evidence ever linked him to the crimes.

His first trial in 1979 ended with a hung jury, after one black juror on a 12-member panel held out for his acquittal.

At his second trial, an all-white jury found Strickland guilty of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

Years later, Douglas would recant her lone eyewitness testimony, writing to the Midwest Innocence Project that “things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can”.

Douglas died before she could formally recant her testimony against Strickland, but her mother, sister and daughter have all testified in court that she picked “the wrong guy”.

Prosecutors in Jackson County began reviewing Strickland’s conviction last November and – under a new Missouri law –filed a motion calling for his immediate exoneration and release. (BBC)

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