KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There's a network of supporters ready to help Kevin Strickland live life as a free man if a judge exonerates him later this week.
"Once he gets out, he won't know anything, you know? This world is going be a foreign world to him," Darryl Burton, founder of Miracle of Innocence, said.
Strickland has been imprisoned for more than 40 years after being convicted of a triple murder in the 1970s, but has always maintained his innocence. Calls for his release renewed earlier this year when the Midwest Innocence Project and the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office held a news conference asking for the conviction to be overturned.
Strickland was sentenced to life in prison for capital murder in 1979.
Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, said at the conference in May that shortly after the conviction, a co-defendant named three other people involved in the incident – none of whom were Strickland.
"While justice has been delayed, we believe it will not be denied," Bushnell said.
Burton knows that feeling all too well. Thirteen years ago Sunday, he was exonerated after serving 24 years in St. Louis for a murder he didn't commit.
During his incarceration, Burton met Strickland, for whom many now believe there is clear and convincing evidence that proves his innocence. The Kansas City, Missouri, City Council is among those supporting Strickland's release.
"Hate and bitterness, he worked it out on the handball court and in weights and just kept his, himself out of harm's way," Burton said.
"He’s devastated," Burton said. "His mind is in a state of confusion and disbelief. You know, and I'm just say to him, if you see this, 'Don't give up, you know? Don't resign yourself to giving up and just, you know, don't stop fighting.'"
If Jackson County Judge Kevin Harrell exonerates Strickland following Thursday's hearing, Burton is ready to help Strickland secure identification, transportation, housing and even a cell phone, like he did with fellow exoneree Ricky Kidd two years ago.
However, Burton said he realizes Strickland faces a long journey of emotional healing.
"At first there's going to be some elation, excitement, joy, but then it's going to dawn on him how much time he's lost," Burton said. "All the years he's been gone, he's going to reflect back to when he was an 18-year-old kid."
Strickland is set to appear in front of the judge at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the downtown courthouse.