Missouri governor: Pardon of 4-decade inmate not a priority

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says addressing the clemency petition for a man who’s been behind bars for a triple murder for more than four decades is not a “priority,” even though prosecutors say he didn’t commit the crime.

Parson noted that Kevin Strickland, 62, was tried “by a jury of his peers” and found guilty. But he added that he knew there was “a lot more information out there.”

Parson has a backlog of about 3,000 clemency requests, the Kansas City Star reported. He issued almost no pardons before his reelection in 2020 but has since begun issuing a group of pardons monthly.

“When something like that comes up, we look at those cases, but I don’t know that that necessarily makes it a priority to jump in front of the line,” Parson said during a Monday news conference. “We understand some cases are going to draw more attention through the media than others, but we’re just going to look at those things.”

Several state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle signed a letter seeking a pardon for Strickland, who has maintained his innocence since he was convicted in the April 1978 deaths of three people in Kansas City.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has called for his release. Federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri, Jackson County’s presiding judge, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and members of the team that convicted Strickland also have said he should be exonerated.

A bill approved this year that is awaiting Parson’s signature would give local prosecutors more power in such cases by allowing innocence claims to be brought before trial courts when a prosecutor believes a prisoner is innocent. Baker has said that if the governor signs the bill, she’ll file a motion on the first day it is legally allowed to get Strickland released.

The Star reported in September that two men who pleaded guilty in the killings for decades swore Strickland was not with them and two other accomplices during the shooting. The only eyewitness also recanted and wanted Strickland released.

In a petition filed with the Missouri Supreme Court in May, defense attorneys also noted that prosecutors removed the only four Black potential jurors from the trial for Strickland, who is Black.

Because of the prosecution’s “racially motivated” strikes, Strickland’s fate was decided by an all-white jury during a trial overseen by a white judge with white lawyers, the Star reported.

The state Supreme Court declined to hear Strickland’s case, without giving a reason.

Strickland applied for clemency Tuesday, saying he does not want his sentence commuted. Anything less than a full pardon “would leave an unjust and undeserved stain on my criminal record,” he wrote.

“Through a full pardon, you have the power not only to correct my wrongful conviction, but also to ensure that my innocence is finally recognized,” Strickland wrote.

If Strickland is released, he will not be eligible for compensation from the state. Missouri compensates only inmates who are exonerated through DNA evidence, according to the Midwest Innocence Project.

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