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Kevin Strickland's quest for freedom continues Tuesday

Hearing that could release him from jail underway
kevin strickland on witness stand
Posted at 9:30 AM, Nov 09, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kevin Strickland's pursuit of freedom continues Tuesday.

Monday saw the beginning of an evidentiary hearing, the outcome of which could result in his release from prison after 43 years.

Strickland was convicted in a 1978 triple murder. His conviction hinged on the eyewitness testimony of the lone survivor, Cynthia Douglas.

Douglas died in 2015, but according to Strickland's legal team, she made efforts to reverse her testimony and free Strickland.

Witness testimony Monday revolved around Douglas.

Family members and friends told the court about the burden Douglas carried, feeling she played a role in sending an innocent person to prison.

Her sister, Cecile "Cookie" Simmons said Douglas was intimidated by officials when she went to them for help.

Simmons testified her sister did not choose Strickland from a lineup — rather detectives at the time told her to choose him.

When she tried to right her wrong, she was told she herself could face prison time for perjury and that Strickland and two other defendants might walk free.

Court resumed Tuesday with the Missouri attorney general's cross examination of Simmons.

The AG's representative, Gregory Goodwin, asked Simmons repeatedly if she was part of the conversations her sister allegedly had with officials — including then-Gov. Mel Carnahan and Claire McCaskill — about recanting her testimony against Strickland.

Simmons answered that she wasn't involved in the conversations and just knew what her sister had told her.

Goodwin also repeatedly asked Simmons if her sister lied on the stand in original trials with her testimony that Strickland was there that night — a question Simmons had difficulty answering because she believed Douglas was pressured on a number of fronts to name Strickland.

“Your sister got on that stand — maybe even the same stand you’re sitting on right now — and swore an oath, didn’t she?” Goodwin asked.

“Yes,” Simmons responded.

“And looked at that jury and said, ‘Kevin Strickland did it.’ She said that, didn’t she?” he further questioned.

“She was told he did it,” Simmons said.

Next on the stand Tuesday morning was Ronald Richardson, Douglas' ex-husband.

Richardson is currently incarcerated at the same facility as Strickland on charges of forcible sodomy, statutory sodomy and first-degree robbery.

Douglas and Richardson were together a total of 24 years, 15 of those married, he testified.

During that time, Richardson said he watched Douglas go to a "dark place," especially when they visited the grave of Sherri Black — Douglas' best friend who was murdered in the 1978 shootings.

"She had to live with the fact that she knew she picked that boy out, and the boy didn’t do it… and she lived with that for many years," Richardson said.

During cross examination, Christine Krug with the AG's office questioned Richardson repeatedly about his past crimes.

Richardson became agitated after several minutes of that line of questioning.

“I made my peace a long time ago with the things I’ve done… What y’all did, what the system did to that girl is criminal," he said.

He described how he watched Douglas deteriorate over the years.

"I’ve lived with the girl for 24 years, and I’ve seen her slowly deteriorate, and I’ve seen the hurt and the pain that the girl went through for 24 years," Richardson said. "So don’t tell me all the things I did. I broke her heart. With the things I’ve done, I broke the girl’s heart. Y’all broke her spirit.”

Douglas died after a prolonged illness in 2015.

Judge James Welsh called for recess as Richardson continued, breaking court for lunch until 1 p.m.

Upon return from the lunch break, Krug continued trying to poke holes in Richardson's credibility as a witness.

Through playing prison phone calls, pointing out contradictions in his statements and allusions that he'd entered into some sort of agreement to testify, Krug painted Richardson as an unreliable source.

Jackson County Prosecutor next called Eric Wesson to the stand. Wesson is the publisher and manager of The Call, a Kansas City, Missouri, newspaper which primarily serves the Black community.

Wesson grew up with Douglas and was friends with her and one of the murder victims, Sherri Black.

He said he learned of the triple murder from Douglas in the early 2000s.

When Douglas reached out to him and told him about the murders, he said she was a different person than the one he knew from childhood.

The pair talked on other occasions about the case, including Douglas' belief she'd picked the wrong person in the lineup, though Wesson didn't feel there was a lot he could do in his capacity as a reporter at the time to help her.

He did assist her in putting together a letter to email to six or seven people who might know what to do, he testified.

The last witness called Tuesday was Dr. Nancy Franklin, an expert on eyewitness memory and identification.

Based on her report, which she completed pro bono, her opinion is that Douglas' identification of Strickland as the man who wielded the shotgun that night was "highly, extremely unreliable."

Court will resume Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. with the attorney general's cross examination of Franklin.