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Kevin Strickland's attorney calls for overhaul of justice system to protect people like him

Tricia Bushnell
Posted at 5:55 PM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 19:37:00-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's been one day since Kevin Strickland learned that a judge overturned his conviction after serving 43 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

As he re-enters a world that has changed so much, he is starting over with nothing.

"They let him out with not even an ID. We still have to get all those vital records, and the process of getting them when you don't have anything. How do you get an ID with no ID?" Tricia Bushnell, Strickland's attorney with the Midwest Innocence Project, said.

The Midwest Innocence Project said this case really opens the door for other people to see that the system doesn't work for people like Strickland.

Strickland's case was monumental, the first in Missouri where a prosecutor had the power to ask a judge to exonerate someone. This happened because of a new law, but the benefits of the law don't extend very far after the person is freed.

Missouri's compensation statute doesn't cover Strickland.

"What it says is you're only allowed to be compensated if you're exonerated by DNA evidence through a very specific process," Bushnell said.

Strickland's case doesn't qualify, and Bushnell said neither do the majority of cases.

As for now, Strickland's financial well-being depends on a GoFundMe account, which has raised more than 440 thousand dollars.

"He's happy to be home, but he's going to realize also all that he's lost," Darryl Burton, founder of Miracle of Innocence, said. "That's going to dawn on him. I don't know when, but at some point, he's going to have some meltdowns and he's going to see he's lost a lot more than you can imagine.

Burton and his team are also here to help Strickland with his mental well-being by offering counseling.

Burton said he knows what it's like. He spent 24 years in prison and was found innocent in 2008. He started Miracle of Innocence to help people like him navigate a new world that he said feels like "Alice in Wonderland."

"What he really needs is to be compensated, that's what he needs," Burton said. "So we hope that policy can change with the Missouri legislature."

Bushnell and Burton said it's up to the public to demand better.

"I don't think any of us would say it's a fair system or a just system. If you're lucky, if enough people hear about your case, then you'll get some compensation," Bushnell said.

Bushnell said it was difficult enough even getting the case in front of a judge again.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office was actively involved in the case, arguing against his release.

"The Attorney General, just like the prosecutor, has a special duty. They are a minister of justice and they are to do justice," Bushnell said. "But it's harder in Missouri and why is that? Why is it here, we have an office who believes that's not their duty. They've said on the record their duty is just to uphold the verdict when that is not the ethical standard."