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Generosity from strangers, not the state of Missouri, will support Kevin Strickland for now

Kevin strickland release
Posted at 10:06 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 08:11:41-05

UPDATE, Nov. 24 | The GoFundMe for Kevin Strickland has topped $250,000 in less than 24 hours.

ORIGINAL STORY, Nov. 23 | Now exonerated and freed from prison, Kevin Strickland begins a new chapter of his life without much to his name.

"I'm thankful for God walking me through this for 43 years, protecting me," Strickland said Tuesday outside the Western Missouri Correctional Facility after a judge's ruling set aside his conviction and allowed him to walk out of prison for the first time in 43 years.

RELATED | 'Still in disbelief': Kevin Strickland released from prison Tuesday

With no compensation coming from the state of Missouri despite being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned since he was a teenager, the 62-year-old Strickland is left to lean on the generosity from strangers and support from nonprofits like the Miracle of Innocence.

"No one is going to understand what he went through except someone who has been through it and, even coming back to society, no one would understand what he's going to need except someone who has been through it," Darryl Burton, founder and president of Miracle of Innocence, said.

Burton is mobilizing his team to offer Strickland some of the basics, like a phone and a way to get around.

The goal, Burton said, is to help Strickland chart a path to self-sufficiency, which financial compensation from the state would go a long toward.

"If this case is not a case for compensation, I don't what is," Burton said.

Under Missouri law, however, wrongfully convicted individuals don't receive a cent in remuneration for time spent behind bars unless DNA evidence clears them of wrongdoing.

In this case, it was the lone survivor recanting her identification of Strickland coupled with statements from two other men convicted of the crime that he wasn't involved.

The dogged determination of Strickland's lawyers along with a new Missouri law that allowed Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker to petition the court for his release finally corrected nearly a half-century of injustice.

RELATED | Timeline: Kevin Strickland's 43-year fight for freedom

Peters Baker said Tuesday she would like to see Missouri lawmakers act swiftly to make sure wrongly imprisoned people who aren't exonerated by DNA evidence, like Strickland, get some of form payment.

"It's our obligation to see to it that we help him through," Peters Baker said. "I told him today as he exited prison that I wouldn't abandon him now and I won't."

Lawmakers believe they can act in bipartisan manner in much the same way they passed the Senate Bill 53 last spring, the law that finally paved the way to Strickland's freedom.

"People are paying attention and people are empathizing with his position," Rep. Ashley Aune — who represents District 14, which includes parts of Platte and Clay counties, in the Missouri House of Representatives — said. "I genuinely hope that his situation has brought all of these issues to light to lawmakers, and that we are working to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else."

Tricia Rojo Bushnell, one of Strickland's attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project, started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for his transition back to society. It had already topped $200,000 by Tuesday night.

The Midwest Innocent Project also has social workers, who will help Strickland navigate the coming weeks and months.

For instance, Strickland will need to obtain a form of identification and open a bank account before he can access the funds from the GoFundMe campaign among the other menial tasks people who've never been wrongfully imprisoned for 43 years take granted.