KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Inside attorney Sean O’Brien’s classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, courses may revolve around textbook readings, discussions about past cases or diagrams of court procedures.
However, for a few dozen students over the past 15 years, lessons have also been learned from working directly on a real case.
Ricky Kidd spent over 20 years behind bars after being convicted of a double murder, however, the years of work by students and O’Brien led to him being ruled innocent and released as a free man earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Kidd spoke to some of the students who served on the team, as well as others who are studying to become future public defenders or prosecuting attorneys.
“They’re my superheroes,” Kidd told 41 Action News. “Without them, I don’t think I’d be having this interview with you.”
O’Brien led the charge to free Kidd starting in 2005 and brought in students to help with the effort.
“When I had to go to the prison to visit witnesses, I took students with me,” he said. “We had students looking for one particular witness who was trying not to be found. Everything we do we have students do, including helping to transport witnesses to and from the hearing and helping to prepare witnesses to testify.”
Sydney Ragsdale, who graduated from the law school last year and recently passed the bar exam, listened to Kidd during the class on Wednesday and could remember the highs and lows of being on the team.
“I never didn’t have hope,” she said. “It was really frustrating when we’d get a bad decision and have to wait. It was definitely worth it. I’ve been walking on air since he walked out of prison.”
For Ragsdale, the experience of serving on O’Brien’s team provided a special lesson she said would stick with her as she enters the legal field.
“Be motivated to go after the truth,” she said. “Believe in the truth and yourself and fight for it.”
Following his release after two decades in prison, Kidd told 41 Action News that the opportunity to speak to the students gave him a chance to share a message close to his heart.
“It’s important for them to know that innocence is real,” he said. “It exists in this country and it’s more prevalent than society tends to believe.”
After seeing O’Brien and the dozens of students help out in his case, Kidd said the impact of their work would not be forgotten.
“We were strangers but now we’re considered best friends,” he said. “People who slide up next to you, roll up their sleeves and get in the mud with you, I think you can call them a friend.”
As O’Brien and students continue to work on other cases, the attorney told 41 Action News the impact of their work could go a long way.
“The emotional experience of walking a client out of prison is like no other experience you can get,” he said. “Ricky had a really good analogy. We’re like air traffic controllers. (Cases with innocent inmates) are all up there in a holding pattern. Which one lands next?”
Moving forward, O’Brien hoped his teachings could lead to future lawyers in his class bringing life-changing results for other innocent inmates.
“I’m not going to last through another round of litigation like this,” he said. “Passing the torch to students is the most important part of it for me now.”