KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Tuesday, a judge set aside the judgment against Kevin Strickland that kept him in prison for 43 years and ordered that he walk free immediately.
Strickland was imprisoned due to a 1978 jury conviction that found him guilty of triple murder.
That conviction largely rested on an eyewitness testimony that was later found to be false.
Activists and attorneys have been working for years to free Strickland, and a judge finally heard the case this month.
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas made it clear through the process that he believed Strickland innocent.
When the news broke about his freedom, Lucas issued a statement thanking those who worked to aid Strickland, including the Midwest Innocence Project and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
"Our community owes him more than we can imagine and we commit to doing all we can to support him," Lucas wrote of Strickland.
We welcome Kevin Strickland back to Kansas City. Our community owes him more than we can imagine and we commit to doing all we can to support him. https://t.co/aqkDtp7wEn
— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) November 23, 2021
Baker, who brought Strickland's plea for freedom to the courts, also issued a statement.
"To say we're extremely pleased and grateful is an understatement. This brings justice -- finally -- to a man who has tragically suffered so so greatly as a result of this wrongful conviction," she said.
Missouri State Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) weighed in as well.
“For 42 years, Kevin Strickland has been innocent. Now, for the first time, he will be free. When I sat down with prosecutors and advocates to write the Motion to Vacate provision of Senate Bill 53/60, we did so to fix a broken system and set innocent people free. Today, Kevin Strickland will walk out of jail a free man to be reunited with his family and friends because of this bill. I want to thank The Midwest Innocence Project for their tireless efforts. Without a doubt, there is more to do to fix our broken judicial system, but today is a monumental step forward for justice in Missouri," Sen. Rizzo said.
Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. echoed the sentiment.
"Wow! Kevin Strickland will finally be released. This is great news for his family, friends & supporters and is an historic event for Jackson County," he wrote on Twitter.
Wow! Kevin Strickland will finally be released. This is great news for his family, friends & supporters and is an historic event for Jackson County. I’d like to commend @jeanpetersbaker & @The_MIP for their hard work and Judge Welsh for making the right and just decision.
— Frank White (@JCEFrankWhite) November 23, 2021
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Missouri) issued a lengthy statement on the ruling.
After one of the longest wrongful convictions in U.S. history, I welcome the exoneration and release of Kevin Strickland today. And I know the people of Kansas City do, too.
I want to thank Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, the Midwest Innocence Project, and the countless advocates who fought tirelessly for this outcome—the right outcome—for years now despite efforts from some to keep an evidently innocent man in prison.
Although no one can return the 43 years that were stolen from Mr. Strickland by a broken legal system, today’s decision is a reminder that, together, we can create the reform necessary to right the wrongs of the past and implement a criminal justice system that works for all Americans.
I’m committed to creating that change in Congress, and I hope all of my colleagues will join me in that endeavor.
Strickland's brother, Warren Thornton, told KSHB 41 News that "God is good!" when he heard about the release.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson credited the bill he signed that allowed for Strickland's appeal. Though, Parson did deny Strickland clemency.
"Earlier this year, I signed SB 53, which created a judicial procedure for prosecuting attorneys to use, in cases like this one, where the prosecutor believes that there was a miscarriage of justice and a wrongful conviction was entered," Parson wrote on Twitter. "The Court has made its decision, we respect that decision, and the Department of Corrections will proceed with Mr. Strickland's release immediately."
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office worked to uphold the conviction, saying that Strickland was guilty and the evidence presented in the evidentiary hearing was "hearsay." The judge disagreed.
"In this case, we defended the rule of law and the decision that a jury of Mr. Strickland's peers made after hearing all of the facts in the case. The Court has spoken, no further action will be taken in this matter," a spokesperson for the attorney general said.
This story will be updated.