Exoneration of Kevin Strickland


Ellie Bonnette, Co-Editor-in-Chief

“I didn’t know I could cry like that. I thought, ‘My life is gone.’” Those were the words of 19-year-old Kevin Strickland after finding out that he was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. On November 24th, after 42 distraught years, 62-year-old Kevin Strickland was exonerated after being wrongfully charged of a triple murder in 1979.     

Strickland gained his best memories from his childhood. He recalls, “playing baseball, building go-karts from wheels that had fallen off old shopping carts, fishing and hunting rabbits, squirrels and groundhogs with his great uncle.” But after his parents split at age 16, he began to lose direction and start smoking and drinking. At age 18, he became a father to a baby girl. Strickland’s father remembers warning him of Vincent Bell, one of the murderers. “My father told me to stay away from that boy: ‘He is bad news,’” Strickland recalled. “On April 25, 1978, Bell, 21, along with Kilm Adkins, 19, Terry Abbott, 21, and a 16-year-old, stopped on their way home to talk to Strickland outside his house. They chatted for a few minutes and tried to get Strickland to join the hangout but Strickland told them he was going to spend time with his daughter. Later on, Bell, Abbott, and Adkins discussed how they would get back at Ingram, a man who had won $300 from Adkins in a craps game by using loaded dice, according to court records. They decided to take a visit to Ingram’s bungalow, and there they tied up and killed Ingram, Black, and Walker. Douglas, Ingram’s girlfriend, was wounded but pretended to be dead. It is crucial to note that Strickland was at home with his family during the murder, and was stunned to see the headline on TV.

Douglas, the only alive witness who was still rattled and even had brain and blood matter in her hair was later shown a lineup of Black men that included Strickland. Douglas, unable to make a decision, recalls the police pressuring her to select Strickland, who went by “Nordy.” According to NPR, Douglas “tried for years to alert political and legal experts to help her prove she had identified the wrong man, according to testimony during the hearing from her family, friends and a co-worker. Douglas died in 2015.” As if that wasn’t enough, the two other men convicted in the homocide insisted that Strickland wasn’t involved. His first trial ended in a hung jury where the only black juror, a woman, held out for acquittal. Then, the outcome of his second trial resulted in an all-white jury charging him of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder. This past June, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear Strickand’s case, but for the first time prosecutor Jean Peters Baker “used a new state law to seek the evidentiary hearing in Jackson County, where Strickland was convicted. The law allows local prosecutors to challenge convictions if they believe the defendant did not commit the crime.”  The three-day hearing resulted in Judge James Welsh explaining how there is “clear and convincing evidence” that “undermines the Court’s confidence in the judgement of conviction.” He points to the fact that no physical evidence linked Strickland to the crime scene that a key witness, Douglas, recanted before her death.

After over 40 years, Strickland is a free man. While one may assume that justice has been served, many claim otherwise due to the fact that Missouri only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people exonerated through DNA evidence, which means that Strickland doesn’t qualify. However, compassionate individuals around the world have raised over $1.7 million dollars for Strickland. This prolonged case has angered and confused many Americans. Strickland’s wrongful imprisonment just adds momentum to the need for criminal justice reform. Kevin Strickland is more than ready to start living his life. He will start with visiting his mother’s grave, seeing the ocean, then visiting his daughter after over two decades.