Judge rules against Missouri AG; Strickland innocence case to be heard in Jackson County

  • In US
  • 2021-09-17 14:37:56Z
  • By Kansas City Star

After a ruling Friday, prosecutors will have the opportunity to argue before a Jackson County Circuit Court judge that Kevin Strickland has wrongly spent more than 40 years in prison.

Judge Kevin Harrell said Friday that an evidentiary hearing that could lead to Strickland's freedom could start as early as Oct. 5, depending on schedules of the lawyers involved.

That comes after Harrell denied a motion filed by the Missouri Attorney General's Office that had asked that Harrell and other judges in Jackson County recuse themselves and be disqualified from hearing Strickland's case.

The attorney general's office, which contends Strickland is guilty, argued there was an appearance of bias in the 16th Circuit Court because the presiding judge, Dale Youngs, has said he "concurs on behalf" of the court that Strickland, 62, should be exonerated.

But Harrell said he was unaware of Youngs' previous statement, which appeared in a letter the prosecutor's office released to the public May 10, before it was raised as an issue in his courtroom. He called himself impartial.

Harrell also denied a motion by the attorney general's office that asked for the case to be moved from criminal to civil court. Harrell said lawmakers meant for criminal procedure to apply to Missouri's new law that gives local prosecutors, such as Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, the power to seek to free prisoners deemed innocent.

Prosecutors, who determined Strickland is innocent following a monthslong review, did just that in August. In a motion, Baker's office argued Strickland's innocence is "clear and convincing" in an April 25, 1978, triple murder at 6934 S. Benton Ave. in Kansas City.

In a court filing later Friday, Harrell intends to set dates for prosecutors to argue that Strickland has suffered Missouri's longest known wrongful conviction. Prosecutors said they intend to present several affidavits and call two witnesses to the stand at that hearing, though lawyers with the attorney general's office said they want to cross-examine more witnesses than that.

That hearing will either be Oct. 5 and 6th, or the 6th and 7th, depending on attorney schedules, Harrell said.

In an investigation published in September 2020, The Star reported that, for decades, two men who pleaded guilty in the killings swore Strickland was not with them and two other accomplices.

The lone eyewitness to the murders, whose testimony was paramount in the case against Strickland, also tried to recant her identification for years, The Star reported.


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