A Missouri man wrongfully convicted of a triple murder in 1978 and imprisoned for more than 42 years has been exonerated and released.
Kevin Strickland, 62, has maintained his innocence since his arrest when he was 18 years old. In June 1979, he was sentenced.
“I didn’t think this day would come,” Mr. Strickland said outside court.
It was the longest wrongful incarceration in state history, but he is unlikely to receive financial compensation under Missouri law.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, which has been tracking exonerations since 1989, it would also be the seventh longest wrongful sentence recognised in the United States.
After 15,487 days in state custody, a judge ordered Mr Strickland’s immediate release on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the Midwest Innocence Project, who have been working for months to free Mr Strickland, told the BBC that they were “ecstatic” with the news.
“We were confident that any judge who saw the evidence would find Mr Strickland innocent, and that is precisely what happened,” Midwest Innocence Project legal director Tricia Rojo Bushnell said in a statement.
She continued, saying: “Nothing can make up for the 43 years he has lost, and he returns home to a state that will not compensate him for the time he has lost. That is not fair.”
According to the Midwest Innocence Project, the state of Missouri only compensates prisoners exonerated based on DNA evidence, not eyewitness testimony.
After being linked to the deadly ransacking of a home in Kansas City on April 25, 1978, Mr Strickland was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.
On that night, three people were shot inside the house: Sherrie Black, 22, Larry Ingram, 22, and John Walker, 20.
Cynthia Douglas, 20, a fourth victim, escaped with injuries after pretending to be dead. Police arrested the teenage Mr Strickland on the basis of a tip from her sister’s boyfriend and then allegedly pressured Ms Douglas to choose him from a lineup.
Mr. Strickland told police he had been watching television at home. There was never any physical evidence linking him to the crimes.
His first trial, in 1979, resulted in a hung jury after one black juror on a 12-member panel voted for his acquittal.
Mr Strickland was found guilty of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder by an all-white jury in his second trial.
Years later, Ms Douglas recanted her lone eyewitness testimony, telling the Midwest Innocence Project that “things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can.”
Ms Douglas passed away before she could formally recant her testimony against Mr Strickland, but her mother, sister, and daughter all testified in court that she chose “the wrong guy.”
Prosecutors in Jackson County began reviewing Mr Strickland’s conviction in November and filed a motion for his immediate exoneration and release under a new Missouri law.
“Under these exceptional circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s conviction is so shaken that it cannot stand, and the judgement of conviction must be set aside,” wrote Judge James Welsh in his ruling on Tuesday.
According to Ms Rojo Bushnell of the Midwest Innocence Project, the process has been completed “demonstrated how difficult it is for the system to correct a mistake Even though the prosecutor agreed that Mr. Strickland is innocent, it took months for the case to be resolved. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”