KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kevin Strickland’s first trial in the late 1970s for the deaths of three people ended in a hung jury.
A second jury found Strickland guilty by using the sole eyewitness testimony of a woman maned Cynthia Douglas.
Douglas passed away in 2015, but not before she called her friend, Eric Wesson Sr., the managing editor/publisher of The Call Newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri, and told him she identified the wrong person.
“Cynthia Douglas and I were childhood friends,” Wesson told KSHB 41 News Tuesday after a Missouri judge exonerated Strickland in a ruling. “We grew up together; Went to the same school and later on in life when I started working (at the newspaper), she came and talked to me several times about Kevin and said that she had identified the wrong person.”
Wesson said those conversations started in 2004.
“She went through the whole scenario of how the police department came in and kind of pressured her into saying that it was Kevin, showed her a suggestive lineup and she was going through a lot of trauma,” Wesson said.
Wesson was among the witnesses called by Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker during hearings earlier this month to review evidence of Strickland’s innocence.
Wesson says Douglas struggled with her decision for years, but would later share her recantation to family, friends and lawmakers who would listen. That persistence eventually caught the ear of the Midwest Innocence Project, which took on the effort that eventually lead to Strickland’s release Tuesday.
“Finally, finally something that she participated in that was wrong, was right now and Kevin is out,” Wesson said. “I don’t think it negates from the fact that he spent 43 years trying to prove his innocence and nobody would listen to him.
“Kevin is not a unique story,” Wesson continued. “There are probably hundreds if not thousands of men that are in prison who are actually innocent.”