Hearing on Longtime Inmate’s Possible Freedom Postponed

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A court hearing that could have determined whether a Missouri man who has been in prison for more than 40 years would go free must be postponed, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

A hearing was scheduled for Thursday in Jackson County Court for a judge to hear arguments on whether Kevin Strickland, 62, should be exonerated for a triple murder conviction and released from prison, where he has been since 1979.

But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed an emergency motion Wednesday seeking to have the hearing delayed and the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District ruled in his favor. Schmitt has said he believes Strickland is guilty.

The appeals court ordered attorneys for Schmitt’s office and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to meet with Circuit Judge Kevin Harrell Thursday to reschedule the hearing.

Schmitt’s spokesman Chris Nuelle said in a statement that a jury convicted Strickland of killing three people, and noted that the Missouri Supreme Court previously declined to hear Strickland’s case.

“Those victims deserve justice,” Nuelle said.

Peters Baker has argued that evidence used to convict Strickland has been disproved or recanted since his conviction in 1979, which she called a “profound error.” Several legal and political officials have also called for Strickland’s release.

Prosecutors said the only person to identify Strickland as the shooter later recanted and sought help to have Strickland released. Two men who were sentenced to prison for shooting the victims have also said that Strickland was not there when John Walker, 20; Sherrie Black, 22; and 21-year-old Larry Ingram, were killed.

Under a new state law that took effect on Saturday, Peters Baker filed a motion asking a judge to exonerate Strickland. Judge Harrell then scheduled Thursday’s hearing and also set a hearing for Friday to announce his decision on Strickland’s fate.

A funeral for Strickland’s mother, who died last week, is scheduled for Saturday, The Kansas City Star reported.

Peters Baker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the appeals court ruling.

In his emergency motion, Schmitt argued the quick scheduling of Thursday’s hearing did not give his office time to prepare or to depose witnesses. He also said the scheduling of a hearing on Friday — during which Strickland was ordered to appear in court — undermined “the appearance that justice is being fairly administered in this case.”

“This Court appreciates the significant public interests involved in this proceeding, and the Circuit Court’s efforts to resolve this proceeding swiftly,” the appeals court order reads. “Nevertheless, in order to permit the Attorney General to meaningfully participate in the hearing, he must be given notice sufficient to allow his office a reasonable opportunity to prepare for the hearing, given the extensiveness of the relevant record, and the complexity and gravity of the issues involved.”

Schmitt also filed a motion earlier in the week asking that all the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County judges be removed from the case, citing an appearance of favoring Strickland’s freedom. But Harrell ruled that Schmitt did not have standing to file motions pertaining to the evidentiary hearing.

The appeals court disagreed, saying Schmitt’s office has the right to file motions in the case. It ordered Harrell to rule on all of Schmitt’s previous motions.