By David M. Greenwald
Kevin Strickland has spent over 42 years in prison with all the evidence, including the actual perpetrators and the only surviving victim, believing he was wrongly convicted, but the politics and rules of the state of Missouri l ‘kept in prison.
In July, Kenneth Nixon and Marvin Cotton traveled to Missouri to show their support for Strickland, who even Jackson County prosecutors say are innocent of the 1978 Kansas City triple murder.
Why is he still there? In large part because there is an evidence hearing scheduled for Aug. 12 where the Missouri attorney general will argue he should remain in jail. This despite the fact that Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told him The office had concluded that Strickland, who was 18 when he was arrested, was “factually innocent” in the shooting and apologized on behalf of their office.
Nixon, who was released in February this year after spending just under 16 years in prison, is stunned by this turn of events.
âIt’s shocking that the justice system works the way it does,â Nixon told The Vanguard in a recent telephone interview. âYou know, unfortunately, it’s not uniform anywhere. The laws used in Michigan by our conviction integrity units do not exist in some other states. Missouri is a prime example, where prosecutors have the power to (put) you to death, but they don’t have the power to get you out.
Kenneth Nixon’s case was almost a classic example of what’s wrong with the system – starting with prison informants.
âThere was always a question of identity from the start,â he said, explaining that they subsequently found a memo through the discovery process on appeal.
The Michigan case saw a situation in which Nixon’s girlfriend was having an affair with one of Nixon’s close friends.
While this was happening, “someone set the house on fire and the police used our earlier story of not getting along as a reason to say I had.” But almost from the start, homicide detectives questioned that conclusion.
The memo that was only released during the post-conviction process showed detectives had considerable doubts about the veracity of the story fabricated by the prison informant.
Nonetheless, Nixon received two consecutive life sentences plus 40 to 60 years for four attempted murder.
When he read about Kevin Strickland and what he’s going through, he wanted to do something about it.
âIt’s painful to think of over four decades of suffering for something you didn’t do,â Nixon said. “The idea of ââhim doing almost three times what I’ve done, for example, there are times my faith faltered, so I can only imagine how many times he felt that way.” “
He thinks it’s crazy that the DA “can take your life away from you, but he can’t restore it when there’s been a mistake.”
“It’s crazy to think that everything is fine in 2021. With all the attention paid to criminal justice reform, it is still happening in parts of our country,” Nixon said.
Nixon is skeptical of the system. âWe can do something completely wrong and potentially cause someone’s death after being punished for decades for something that we now know that person didn’t do, and the attorney general’s position is thatâ he missed his deadline. It doesn’t even make sense. Like, it’s just hard for me to figure that out.
Prosecutor Baker believes Strickland is factually innocent and has obtained the agreement of federal prosecutors, the Jackson County Presiding Judge and other officials who say Strickland should be exonerated.
They filed a petition in June, but it was dismissed by the state’s Supreme Court.
Baker said: âWe are disappointed. But we are pursuing all avenues of exoneration for Mr Strickland.
However, the GA office thinks Baker and his office are wrong. In a response brief, they argued that the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office had “studiedly avoided, overlooked, misinterpreted or misunderstood much of the evidence in Strickland’s case.”
The AG maintains Strickland is guilty and pointed to police reports in which a witness said Strickland offered money to the only eyewitness to the murders the day after the murders to keep “his mouth shut”.
However, this claim was never raised during the trial and the Jackson County chief prosecutor said it was not clear why prosecutors did not question Harris about it on the stand.
For Nixon, he knows what Strickland must be feeling.
âI don’t think there is an appropriate word to really describe this feeling,â he said. âIt’s horrible to have to deal with this on a daily basis, because you have to watch, especially people like in the him and me situation where you are on a life sentence, you are doomed to die in jail for something you donât have. didn’t, but yet you are forced to watch people who actually committed crimes that actually hurt, someone comes home regularly.
âSometimes several times a week. You watch these people come home after doing some heinous things, but yet you have to sit on the sidelines and watch it, and you haven’t done nothing.
He said he continued, “(n) never wavering in his hope, never letting go of knowing that one day my time was coming”.