KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Less than 24 hours before an evidentiary hearing that could free a jailed Kansas City man, the Missouri Court of Appeals sided with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt to cancel the hearing.
The case involves Kevin Strickland, convicted of a decades-old triple murder in Kansas City.
Schmitt argued his office didn’t have enough time to prepare for the hearing, and an appeals judge agreed Wednesday.
The hearing in question was scheduled for Thursday morning after Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker filed a motion to free Strickland from prison.
That meeting is now canceled and a simple case management conference will take place Thursday morning instead.
A spokesman for Schmitt’s office released the following statement: “Three victims were slain forty years ago. Kevin Strickland was convicted of those crimes by a jury, and the Supreme Court recently denied his habeas petition. Those victims deserve justice.”
Schmitt’s spokesman went on to say that “scheduling a merits hearing on three days notice, on a motion to vacate a conviction of multiple murders, fails to give the attorney general a meaningful opportunity to prepare for and participate in the hearing.”
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who could pardon Strickland, has said he’s not convinced that Strickland is innocent.
Strickland was arrested in 1978 for a triple homicide and later convicted. But in 2009, a key witness recanted her statement and said she made a mistake.
Two other men who admitted to the crime also said Strickland is innocent. They have both since been released, but Strickland is serving life in prison on capital murder charges.
Jackson County’s prosecutor filed for the hearing under a new Missouri law that allows prosecutors to go before judges and have convictions reversed and also maintains Strickland is the wrong guy.
Strickland’s legal team at the Midwest Innocence Project released the following statement:
“This decision highlights that the criminal legal system values process over justice. There is no doubt that Mr. Strickland is innocent and that the legislature passed this law so that local prosecutors like Jean Peters Baker “can file a motion for a court to swiftly free innocent people like Mr. Strickland.
Despite having been presented with the facts of this case for over 40 years—during which it continually fought to deny Mr. Strickland a day in court—the Attorney General’s office now argues that it needs more time to prepare. That is untrue.
“The Attorney General was preparing for a hearing all summer in Mr. Strickland’s habeas proceedings. He has offered no evidence of guilt or of having even conducted an independent investigation. Indeed, he would not even sit down to discuss the case with Mr. Strickland’s counsel or the Jackson County’s Prosecutor’s Office.
“While the hearing is delayed, justice will not be denied. Mr. Strickland will have his day in court. The only time that matters now is Mr. Strickland’s. Every day the proceeding is delayed is a day he cannot get back. It is time with family he will never experience.
“On Saturday, Mr. Strickland’s mother will be laid to rest. And he will not be there. That is not justice. We hope that everyone who is also enraged and aghast at this process will consider and remember who decides justice in each of their jurisdictions.”