KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ricky Kidd had his headphones in and was working out Wednesday afternoon at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, when he was summoned for the most important phone call of his life.
He didn’t hear when the correctional officer called his name.
“The officer had to come over to the area of the gym where I was working out and tell me that I had to return to the housing unit ASAP,” Kidd said.
After 23 years in prison, Kidd knew why he was being summoned.
A team of lawyers had been working on his behalf to convince a judge to overturn a miscarriage of justice and free him from a life sentence without the possibility of parole he’d accepted as part of a plea deal in a double murder trial.
“I assumed it was probably a decision, but what type of decision,” Kidd said. “I’ve been denied in the past when I thought I wouldn’t be, so I was extremely nervous and trying to breathe.”
Kidd got on the phone with his attorneys, including Sean O’Brien.
“What’s going on guys?” Kidd voice rang out.
“You know what’s going on,” a member of his legal team replied.
“Well, let me hear it,” Kidd shot back.
That’s when he received the news that soon Kidd would be free again — free again to hug the daughter who was born after his arrest, free again to have dinner with his sister, free again to eat a steak and drink a Corona beer, if that’s what he wanted for dinner.
Kidd broke down and started crying.
“I didn’t think I would, but I did — and it’s good because I got the tears out and today I can actually talk,” he said while meeting with reporters across the street from the jail.
“Very emotional, tearful. I thought I would have words, but I guess the power of the ruling and fact that it actually came down, I was actually speechless,” Kidd said.
Flash forward one day to Thursday.
Kidd stepped from the front seat of a black Mercedes sedan, looking dapper in a blue button-down shirt and black suit.
“Elated, refreshing, nervous,” he said when asked to describe his emotions in that moment. “I’m actually walking in a free society that I should have never been taken out of, so I’m very excited today.”
Faced with a mob of cameras and reporters and backed by dozens of family, lawyers and other supporters, Kidd said he has no desire to antagonize the legal system but plans to become an advocate for reform.
For now, he was content to hug his family and share the relief and joy he feels as a painful quarter-century long chapter of his life comes to a merciful end.
“It was something I dream about,” Kidd said of walking free from prison. “I feel like I walked out of a nightmare and into a dream. I dreamed about this 23 years ago.”
Of course, back in 1996 when he was first brought in for questioning in the shooting deaths of George Bryant and Oscar Bridges, Kidd never imagined the nightmare could last so long.
“I thought that I would go to the Jackson County Jail in 1996 and walk back out with the understanding that they had the wrong person,” he said. “It took 23 years, a courageous judge and an amazing (legal) team to bring about this day.”
DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Daren Adkins reviewed all the evidence in Kidd’s case before ruling Wednesday that there was “clear and convincing” evidence he was, and always had been, innocent — a claim from which Kidd never wavered.
“The system failed twice,” O’Brien said. “It failed when it wrongly convicted him and it failed when it took 23 years to correct that mistake. ... It was way too easy to convict an innocent man and it was way harder than it should have been to free him.”
Kidd thanked the throng of supporters who helped free him Thursday with a beaming smile and a slight crack in his voice.
“I love you," Kidd told his family, legal team and other supporters. “I love everybody. Thank you. You were my floating device. Without you, I would have drowned. ... I absolutely wouldn’t have been able to make it without them.”
Kidd also said his faith “kept me anchored” along with his support network.
“Every time I wanted to give up, there was a spirit that was with me that wouldn’t allow me to give up ...,” he said. “I found ways to taping that spirit in a real way, in a tangible way.”
Sometimes, it was as simple as cathartic writing, facilitating programs to assist fellow inmates or writing plays, but he refused to sulk and plans to continue writing and working to secure justice for others.
As for wrongfully convicted persons who may be feeling lost, Kidd had a message.
“Look at me and be hopeful,” he said. “Remain optimistic and know it’s a fight. You keep that jab out there, and you keep that jab out there. Justice is sometimes elusive, but if you stay in the fight and learn how to persevere this can be your fate as well.”
Asked if he was worried about being retried in the murder case, Kidd shrugged off the suggestion.
“I think it would be a waste of taxpayers’ time and money,” he said.