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Kevin Strickland evidentiary hearing enters 3rd day

Strickland Hearing
Posted at 9:35 AM, Nov 10, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The evidentiary hearing that could set Kevin Strickland free after 43 years in prison enters its third day Wednesday.

Much of the witness testimony over the last two days has centered around Cynthia Douglas' identification of Strickland as one of the suspects in a 1978 triple murder.

Witnesses on Monday and Tuesday, including family members and friends, testified Douglas told them on several occasions over the last 30 years that she identified the wrong man.

Douglas died in 2015 before she could recant her testimony in any official capacity, though evidence suggests she made some efforts to free Strickland through the Midwest Innocence Project.

Testimony Tuesday concluded with Dr. Nancy Franklin, a memory and eyewitness identification expert who said her findings on Douglas' identification are "exculpatory."

Based on a number of factors, Franklin said, she determined Douglas' testimony that Strickland was there that night was "highly unreliable."

Court resumed Wednesday morning with her cross-examination.

Christine Krug, representing the Missouri attorney general's office in the case, called into question Franklin's sources of income and methodology for her report on the Strickland case.

Franklin, who took on Strickland's case pro bono, noted she donates about 1,000 hours' worth of her time every year and brings in around $30,000 to $50,000 for consulting outside of that.

Krug quizzed Franklin on the accuracy of one assessment she performed for Strickland's case, particularly pointing out the small sample size used.

Franklin conducted what she called a lineup fairness assessment with 32 respondents to determine if the original police lineup Strickland was presented in, to Douglas, was fair.

Franklin said the sample size was irrelevant in the assessment because it was the equivalent of rolling a dice and should have produced evenly dispersed results — yet they were clearly skewed in one direction, toward Strickland.

So, had the lineup been fair, Franklin contended, the distribution of responses should have been 8-8-8-8, an equal number for each of the four people presented in the lineup.

However, 23 of the 32 respondents in her test selected Strickland as the suspect based on Douglas' description.

Also at issue Wednesday morning were changes Franklin made to the report overnight.

Franklin said the changes were to correct citations and typos, not anything of substance. She also testified that while Strickland's legal team assisted her by producing documents and providing clarity, they had no editorial role in composing the report.

After a short morning break, the attorney general's office began to call witnesses.

They included officials from the AG's office who were asked to conduct searches of archived correspondence.

The first was asked to look at archived files from former Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan's administration.

Three boxes of files were searched, which included correspondence from constituents from the years 1995 through 2000 as well other miscellaneous files.

They were the only boxes left from the administration, as more than 170 others were destroyed in accordance with a retention schedule.

The second official searched the AG's email vault for emails from Cynthia Richardson, Douglas' married name.

They found none, but noted the database dated back to November 2009 and emails prior to that were not searchable.

The AG appeared to be trying to show that Douglas did not reach out to officials about Strickland's release as she told several friends and family members she had.

Court resumed after lunch with testimony from a former KCPD officer who responded to the scene of the triple murder in 1978.

He described a chaotic scene crowded with people.

He remembered very clearly seeing Cynthia Douglas seated, sobbing, with a compress held to her leg, which was bleeding.

The former officer recalled Douglas saying a nickname that sounded like "naughty" when he asked who'd shot her.

Strickland's nickname at the time was "Nardi," after his middle name Bernard, according to previous testimony.

The attorney general's office alleged Douglas was talking about Strickland, though his legal team pointed to times in the trial transcripts when Douglas said she didn't know that night if it was Strickland.

The AG next called John O'Connor, a criminal defense lawyer who worked in the prosecutor's office as an investigator at the time of the murders.

He spent a great amount of time with Cynthia Douglas, acting more or less as her advocate. He'd drive her to and from court proceedings and stay with her while they happened.

O'Connor denied allegations he or anyone else on the prosecution threatened Douglas with perjury, nor had any conversations with her about her desire to recant her testimony.

He went on to say, based on Douglas' email to the Midwest Innocence Project, he believed Strickland's claim of innocence.

Without Douglas' testimony, O'Connor said the "case couldn't have been charged."

Court recessed until 4 p.m.

Parties for both sides delivered closing arguments when court resumed.

Judge James Welsh will collect additional paperwork and evidence from the attorneys before taking the matter "under advisement," and make a determination in a "timely fashion."