CAMERON, Mo. — The Kansas City man who spent more than 23 years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit was released from prison Thursday afternoon.
One day after a judge ruled that Ricky Kidd was innocent and should be released or retried, Kidd drove away from the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, as a free man.
“I’m great,” Kidd said as he met with reporters around 4:45 p.m. across the street from the prison. “It’s a wonderful feeling today. We dreamed for this day. I’ve dreamed for this day for the past 23 years, and it’s finally here and it’s still sinking in along with the rain.”
Kidd's sister, Nechelle, also was overwhelmed by her brother's release.
“Words can’t describe,” she told 41 Action News as she prepared to leave for Cameron. “I’m just so excited. I don’t know what to do. I can’t believe this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. I just thank the lord. There’s nothing else I can say.”
Nechelle, who goes by "Nikki," wasn't the only family member ecstatic by Kidd's release.
"I just kept thinking in my head, 'I cannot believe this is happening. I can’t believe this is really happening. He is really out,'" his daughter, who was born after Kidd's arrest said. "I’m going to be able to know him out here and not behind bars."
She was able to hug Kidd as a free man for the first time after a court decision Wednesday paved the way for his release.
“After thorough review, this Court finds that the evidence establishing Kidd’s innocence is clear and convincing,” DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Daren Adkins wrote in a 107-page judgment, granting Kidd’s writ of habeas corpus.
According to court records, the state of Missouri determined Thursday that “it had no objection to (Kidd) being released pending further proceedings.”
Everyone who followed us and supported us on the way, words can’t describe it," Nechelle said. "I’m trying to contain myself and not cry.
He will be released on his own recognizance, but will be required to appear at a habeas corpus proceeding. The state of Missouri is still considering whether to retry the case, but the nightmare has ended for now.
"I’m just overwhelmed — overjoyed, overwhelmed ...," Nichelle said. "I knew this day would come. It’s been a long journey.
She said she's most looking forward to being together, sharing meals and enjoying life.
"Being able to laugh and touch and hug him, being able to eat together, to be with his children and my nephews — all of us being together," Nechelle said.
For the Midwest Innocence Project, which fought for Kidd's release, it's a bittersweet moment.
"It means so much, but it’s also just such a hard moment to think about how much someone lost all in one go," Midwest Innocence Project Director Tricia Bushnell said. "He has to re-begin his life and what comes next, it's another way in which the system fails."
Ricky Kidd was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the Feb. 6, 1996, shooting deaths of George Bryant and Oscar Bridges in the 7000 block of Monroe Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kidd became a suspect in the murders after he was one of 10 men named in anonymous calls to the police.
He was arrested about a week after the shootings along with his girlfriend.
Both told police that they were together throughout the day Bryant and Bridges were killed, including a trip to Lake Jacomo to where Kidd applied for a gun permit.
No physical evidence has ever connected Kidd with the murders.
An accomplice who admitted to being one of three men who committed the crime never implicated Kidd and, in fact, named two other co-conspirators.
The sole eye witness who identified Kidd as the shooter has since recanted and one of the victim’s daughters who witnessed the shooting did not identify Kidd at trial.
Kidd’s lawyers also have asserted that the state failed to notify his defense team about potentially exculpatory evidence that pointed to other suspects as the guilty parties.
“Ricky’s case highlights how difficult it is to correct an injustice,” Bushnell, who helped with Kidd’s case, said in a statement Wednesday after Adkins’ decision. “He has spent the last 23 years fighting to prove his innocence from inside prison walls. We are ecstatic that he’ll finally be coming home to be with his family.”
Taking into account all that information, the judge Wednesday ruled that a review of the evidence “more than establishes a reasonable probability that no reasonable juror would find Kidd guilty” and concludes that “the State’s case against Kidd is lacking in weight and credibility,” according to Adkins’ decision.
"Just the look on Ricky’s face and watching him hug his family has been incredible," one of Kidd's attorneys, Sean O'Brien, said. "All we ever needed was one fair hearing to win this case and we finally got it."
Court records direct the state of Missouri to release Kidd unless a new trial was ordered by Sept. 13, 2019.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker released a statement about the Kidd case, which reads in part: “Our obligation here as with every case is to seek the truth.”
Then-Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office handled Kidd’s original prosecution.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ricky Kidd accepted a guilty plea. It has since been corrected.