“A Profound Error”

By Rachelle Law, Founder, How Come, How Long

Writer, Author, Blogger

Murders took place 6934 South Benton Ave.
(photograph by James Thompson May 11, 2021)

Growing up in the 70’s I was repeatedly warned by adult figures to be careful of who I chose to spend my time with because others would judge me by the company I kept. In addition, they were aware of the influence friends could have upon me. Guilt by association is what they called it. If one of my friends chose to act in a negative way, they knew I would be grouped in with them. True or not it is all based on perception.

This very well may be what took place in the 1978 case of Kevin Strickland, an 18-year-old black boy, convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years for killing Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22; in Kansas City on April 25, 1978, a horrific and senseless crime.

It is way too easy to convict an innocent person. The sad thing is, once convicted, it is nearly impossible to get the individual out of prison.

After 43 years, Strickland, now 62, who maintained his innocence since his arrest at age 18, sentenced in June 1979, has been exonerated, the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri history and the longest in the nation, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Once again, the criminal justice system has reminded the community just how flawed it is with the wrongful conviction of, yet another black boy, wronged by the penalization system, designed to punish somebody for a crime, not necessarily the guilty party, just someone.

The criminal justice system refers to this as a profound error. Unfortunately for the families, it stirs up a traumatic memory of their loss and subjects them to relive the nightmare.

Wrongful convictions happen for several reasons: bad police work, prosecutorial misconduct, false confessions, faulty eyewitness identification, snitches, bad lawyering, and sleeping judges, judges are supposed to be impartial referees’ intent on ensuring fair trials. Unfortunately, judges do not always do what they should. The reasons are many and varied, but the fact that many judges are elected doesn’t help. Remember that the next time there is an election. Unfortunately, many people hold these positions and choose not to operate with integrity.

This is nothing new. Prisons are full of tens of thousands of people locked up for crimes they did not commit.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021, a judge ordered Strickland’s immediate release. He returned home to the state of Missouri, where he will not be paid for the time, he lost. Missouri has one of the strictest compensation laws in the nation and does not pay restitution for wrongfully imprisoned people. However, a GoFundMe has raised over $1.1M surpassing the goal of $7,500, and now he is set to become a millionaire.

Not much has changed in our criminal justice system. If anything, it has become worse since Strickland entered the prison system. The state will not even offer support for counseling or therapy for the trauma experienced while incarcerated. nor will he receive health care.

Kevin Strickland can begin to live his life, which is more than half over. He will be responsible for his own housing, employment, and mental health issues.

Once again, another imprisonment damages the community and devastates a Black family.

By Rachelle Law

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