Missouri AG wants to keep Kevin Strickland in prison

Why, at this point, is Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt still insisting that Kevin Strickland is guilty of the 1978 triple murder that prosecutors, actual guilty parties, the only witness and Strickland’s two alibis all have said he had nothing to do with?

That’s between Schmitt, his God, his shrink and his campaign manager for next year’s U.S. Senate race.

But for whatever reason, he is maintaining that office’s two-decadeslong record of unwillingness to right wrongful convictions, even when the person was eventually exonerated. That has happened 27 times since 2000, according to the Chicago-based news organization Injustice Watch, which said, “In roughly half of those cases, the office continued arguing that the original guilty verdict should stand even after a judge vacated the conviction.”

There is no law, no order and no justice in trying to keep an innocent person in jail, but like Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who won’t admit the obvious, either, Schmitt doesn’t seem to think it’s in his interest to admit that the state was wrong, and that the jury in that case was misinformed.

In May, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, Mayor Quinton Lucas, federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri and members of the team that convicted him four decades ago agreed he deserves to be exonerated and released.

Baker’s office concluded after a long review of Strickland’s case that he was not involved in the April 25, 1978 killings in any way.

Strickland, who is Black, was convicted as a teenager by an all-white jury, based on the testimony of a surviving victim who later said she identified the wrong man.

Yet Assistant Attorney General Andrew Clarke argued on Monday that Strickland got a fair trial in 1979. He pointed to police reports in which a witness said Strickland had allegedly offered the victim money the day after the killings to keep “her mouth shut.” That claim was never even mentioned at trial.

The two men convicted in the case say Strickland wasn’t there that night. The attorney general’s office called their statements, and the victim’s recantation, “unreliable.”

Gov. Mike Parson has refused to pardon Strickland, even after 13 state lawmakers asked him to reconsider. Rep. Andrew McDaniel, the Republican chair of the Missouri House committee that oversees the state’s prison system, called for a pardon.

A judge in DeKalb County — where Strickland is in prison at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron — will hear his innocence claim during an Aug. 12 and 13 evidentiary hearing. Strickland’s lawyers and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office will make their opposing arguments.

When Judge Ryan Horsman set the hearing date, the attorney general’s office had the gall to complain that such a quick time frame could be a burden on the office. After Strickland has served his entire adult life in prison for a crime he did not commit, we certainly don’t want to hurry the AG’s office.

Horsman responded, with both humanity and a grasp of the facts, that Strickland has been “sitting in prison since before I was born.”

That Schmitt would leave him there for the rest of his life, based on hearsay so weak it wasn’t even mentioned in court, is something voters really should consider next year.

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