Donations to exonerated former Missouri inmate top $1 million on Thanksgiving – STLtoday.com

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Missouri man exonerated in 3 killings, free after 4 decades

Kevin Strickland, 62, managed a smile while talking to the media after his release from prison, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Cameron, Mo. Strickland, who was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders, was released from prison Tuesday after a judge ruled that he was wrongfully convicted in 1979. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star via AP)

ST. LOUIS — The outpouring of support for Kevin Strickland, who was exonerated this week in a 1978 triple murder he swore he did not commit, continued on Thanksgiving, as donations topped $1 million two days after he walked out of prison.

Some people who gave to a GoFundMe page set up to support Strickland said their contributions were a way to apologize for Missouri state officials who blocked his path to freedom despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence.  

“Our state leaders put their own self-interest and the politics of HATE before caring for people,” wrote Gerri McQueen, who gave $25. “I want to show them that ‘we the people care.’”

Aidan Schroeder, who donated $50, wrote, “I am so ashamed of the state I live in. Bless you, Mr. Strickland. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through and I hope you can know peace and a happier life.”

James Hagerman, who gave $50, said, “I donated because Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is a cruel SOB! Kevin Strickland should get $1 million for every year he was in prison.”

Parson declined to grant Strickland’s clemency requests even after Jackson County prosecutors declared in May 2021 that Strickland was “factually innocent” and should be freed immediately after 42 years of imprisonment.

Also standing in Strickland’s way was Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who maintained Strickland was guilty and fought to keep him behind bars.

Strickland, 62, was released Tuesday from the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron after a judge granted Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s motion to free him.

The GoFundMe page was set up in June by Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, to help pay for Strickland’s housing and necessities when he was eventually freed. The original fundraising goal was $7,500 — “approximately $175 dollars for every year Mr. Strickland spent wrongfully convicted.”

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Even though Strickland was exonerated, under Missouri law he is ineligible to receive compensation for his wrongful conviction. Because he has spent most of his life behind bars, he has no work history and won’t be able to get Social Security benefits.

By Tuesday evening, hours after Strickland’s release, more than $200,000 had been raised, well in excess of the original goal. But the donations continued, especially after Strickland’s appearance Wednesday on CNN.

At 9 p.m. Thursday, donations totaled $1,001,570, but were continuing to climb.

Strickland’s case was highlighted in a September 2020 investigation by Luke Nozicka of The Kansas City Star. 

The newspaper interviewed two men who admitted guilt in the April 25, 1978 Kansas City triple murder and swore Strickland was not with them and two other accomplices during the killing. The Star also reported that the lone eyewitness to the murders, Cynthia Douglas, had told relatives she had wanted to recant. Douglas died in 2015.

Following the newspaper’s report, Jackson County prosecutors began reviewing the conviction in November 2020, and concluded Strickland was innocent and should be freed immediately.

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