Court in midwestern state of Missouri orders immediate release of Kevin Strickland, 62, who spent more than four decades for a triple murder he did not commit.

Strickland was convicted in 1979 of a triple murder in Kansas City. He always maintained that he wasn’t at the crime scene.
Strickland was convicted in 1979 of a triple murder in Kansas City. He always maintained that he wasn’t at the crime scene. (AP)

A judge in the midwestern US state of Missouri has ordered the immediate release of a Black man who spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder he did not commit.

After reviewing the case, Judge James Welsh ordered Kevin Strickland's immediate release on Tuesday.

Strickland, 62, was convicted by an all-white jury in 1979 for the murders in Kansas City, Missouri, and sentenced to life in prison.

Strickland steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office agreed earlier this year that he was wrongly convicted.

"Still in disbelief," CNN quoted Strickland as saying

"I didn't think this day would come."

Strickland said he found out the news of his release in the middle of a soap opera he was watching.

Strickland told The Washington Post that he hopes to see the ocean and his mother's grave.

"If we don't stop at the gravesite first, I'm going to get out of the car and I'm going to try to make it there on my hands and knees," Strickland said. 

Longest-serving inmates wrongfully convicted

Strickland's exoneration after 43 years behind bars makes him one of the longest-serving inmates in the United States to have been wrongfully convicted, according to the National Registry of Exonerations maintained by several US law schools.

Strickland was convicted after a second trial –– the first ended in a mistrial –– of the April 25, 1978 murders of three people who were tied up and shot.

The only survivor, Cynthia Douglas, identified Strickland as one of the four men who carried out the shooting but later recanted her testimony.

Two of the men convicted of the murders said Strickland was not involved and identified two other men as having taken part.

There was also no evidence linking Strickland to the crime and he provided an alibi for where he was at the time.

"Strickland was convicted solely on the eyewitness testimony of Douglas, who subsequently recanted her statements," the judge said.

Court decision hailed 

"Under these unique circumstances, the Court's confidence in Strickland's conviction is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside.

"The Court hereby orders Strickland's immediate release."

Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker welcomed the decision.

"This brings justice –– finally –– to a man who has tragically suffered so so greatly as a result of this wrongful conviction," Baker said in a statement.

Strickland's case was championed by The Midwest Innocence Project of the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law, which advocates on behalf of wrongfully convicted people.

Governor Mike Parson, who declined Strickland's clemency requests, tweeted simply that: "The Court has made its decision, we respect the decision, and the Department of Corrections will proceed with Mr. Strickland's release immediately."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies