Kevin Strickland was finally granted a hearing in a triple murder case. He has been imprisoned for 43 years to life in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.
The 62-year-old man was convicted in 1979 for a triple homicide in Kansas City, Missouri 1978. After 17 failed attempts to get his case overturned, Strickland was finally granted his day in court to prove his innocence.
“Finally somebody’s going to pay attention to my pleas of innocence,” he said, according to NBC affiliate KSHB. Strickland provided detailed testimony during Monday’s evidentiary hearing in the case.
The evidentiary hearing was faced with a series of delays for months due to Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who filed motions to challenge the evidence in Strickland’s case. Schmitt said he believes Strickland is guilty of the murders.
According to ABC News, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Strickland’s attorney Robert Hoffman, believe Strickland was wrongfully convicted. “The evidence that was used to convict him had been recanted or disproven since his trial.”
“This is a triple murder in which three young people were executed, “ Peters Baker said Monday. “The tragedy was made much, much worse by Kevin Strickland’s conviction.”
Strickland had faith in the justice system and believed he would be found innocent if he cooperated with the police.
“I just knew the system worked and I would not be convicted of something I didn’t do,” ABC reports.
Strickland’s first trial ended in a hung jury when the only black juror in the case, a woman, pushed for his acquittal. In the second trial in 1979, he was convicted by an all-white jury on one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
Attorneys for Strickland and the Attorney General’s office stated during opening statements that the statements from Cynthia Douglas, a witness who survived the shootings, would be crucial to determine his innocence. Before Douglas died in 2015, she recanted her story and identified Strickland as the shooter.
During the hearing, Peters Baker said that Douglas stated over the course of 30 years that she had made a mistake in her testimony against Strickland.
She called the man to the witness stand and asked if he “enjoyed” the attention his case had received over the last few months.
“I’m more of a private person, hope to be a very private person if I’m released from this situation, Strickland said.
According to a statement obtained from KHSB, Strickland is “happy, hopeful,” about being back in the courtroom after being behind bars for more than four decades.
According to the Kansas City Star, state officials including federal prosecutors in western Missouri, Jackson County’s presiding judge, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, and more than a dozen lawmakers have openly voiced their support for Strickland’s exoneration.
If exonerated, his time in prison will go down as the longest known wrongful conviction in Missouri history.