KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While a path to freedom for Kevin Strickland remains, the timeline associated with that path is now less clear.
In a ruling Wednesday afternoon, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District agreed with an emergency motion filed earlier in the day by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt to delay a Thursday hearing that could have ended with the vacation of a triple-murder conviction against Strickland.
In its ruling, the appeals court said the attorney general’s office has the right to “meaningfully participate” in Strickland’s hearing.
To allow for that participation, the appeals court ordered the Jackson County Circuit Court to cancel Thursday’s scheduled hearing.
Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker originally filed a motion for the hearing on Aug. 30, the first day she could file such a motion after a new state law took effect giving local prosecutors an option to request a hearing to vacate convictions.
Schmitt’s office argued that they have the right to participate in the hearing and that the three-day notice did not give them enough time to prepare.
Despite the order to cancel Thursday’s hearing, the appeals court did direct parties to reschedule the hearing for a future date.
"This decision highlights that the criminal legal system values process over justice," Robert Hoffman, an attorney representing Strickland, said in a release Wednesday afternoon. "Despite having been presented with the facts of this case for over 40 years—during which it continually fought to deny Mr. Strickland a day in court—the Attorney General’s office now argues that it needs more time to prepare. That is untrue."
The appeals court acknowledged in its ruling that parties involved in the case are likely already familiar with many of the details of the case and that knowledge should be taken into effect when setting a new date for the hearing.
Hoffman predicts the AG's office will continue to file "abusive and delaying motions," though remains hopeful the court will eventually rules on the evidence.
"While the hearing is delayed, justice will not be denied," Hoffmand said. "Mr. Strickland will have his day in court."
Wednesday’s appeals court ruling also overturned a Tuesday ruling by a Jackson County Circuit Court judge that the AG’s office could not file any motions in the case. Instead, the appeals court ordered the circuit court to rule on each of the motions filed by the attorney general office.
Strickland has maintained his innocence in connection to the 1979 deaths, and supporters have been vocal about pushing for his release.