Upon his release from jail, a man who was wrongly charged and imprisoned for almost four decades thanked God for "walking me through this for 43 years."
An appeals court has determined that Kevin Strickland, 62, was falsely convicted of three murders in 1979 and freed him from prison on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
As far as he is concerned, he was at home watching television when the murders occurred when he was 18 years old. While he was engrossed in a soap opera, he happened to catch the news of the decision.
A retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, Judge James Welsh, reportedly made the ruling after a three-day evidentiary hearing sought by a Jackson County prosecutor who stated evidence used to convict Strickland has since been recanted or disproved.
"Clear and convincing evidence" had been given, Welsh said in his decision, "undermines the Court's confidence in the judgement of conviction." A major witness reportedly later retracted her testimony before her death, and there was no physical evidence linking Strickland to the murder scene, he said.
As a result, "the Court's confidence in Strickland's convictions is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside," concluded Welsh in directing Strickland's release.
Assisted by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who worked tirelessly to get the accusations against him dropped, Strickland was freed shortly after.
"To say we're extremely pleased and grateful is an understatement," Baker said. "This brings justice - finally - to a man who has tragically suffered so so greatly as a result of this wrongful conviction."
As for Strickland, he says he's not "necessarily angry."
"I think I've created emotions that you all don't know about just yet," he said to reporters as he exited the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron. "Joy, sorrow, fear. I am trying to figure out how to put them together."
He also remarked that the criminal justice system "needs to be torn down and redone," adding that he would want to be a part of the efforts to "keep this from happening to someone else."
The witness recanted her testimony
Cynthia Douglas, the lone survivor of the gunshots on April 25, 1978, spoke extensively at the evidentiary trial. Her testimony in both of Strickland's trials was based on her first identification of him as one of four individuals who shot the victims.
Following her conviction, Welsh stated that she began to have second thoughts, but she was "hesitant to act" for fear of being charged with perjury for publicly retracting comments made under oath.
Strickland's family, friends, and a co-worker all testified during the hearing that she had attempted for years to notify political and legal experts to assist her explain that she had identified the wrong person. In 2015, Douglas passed away.
As of Saturday, according to Charisma News, approximately $1.4 million had been raised for Strickland. The Midwest Innocence Project reportedly launched a GoFundMe campaign to generate money for Strickland's basic living expenses while they campaigned for his release from prison.
Even though Strickland was vindicated and freed, the state only pays out wrongful incarceration compensation to those who were cleared through DNA evidence.