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Kevin Strickland, a Kansas City man who local and federal prosecutors say has spent more than 42 years in prison for a triple murder he did not commit, was again not among Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s recent pardons.
That news Tuesday afternoon, coupled with Parson’s pardoning of a St. Louis couple who last year brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, sparked outrage from some residents and Democrats.
Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Kansas City Democrat and chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, on Wednesday called it “peak irony” for Parson to pardon “white people of privilege” who admitted to breaking the law while Strickland, Lamar Johnson — a prisoner St. Louis prosecutors say is innocent — and “countless others sit in prison for crimes all relevant parties say they did not commit.”
“Yesterday, the governor of our state indicated he will use the power of his office to protect criminals, while ignoring true miscarriages of justice when the victims of a biased criminal justice system happen to be Black,” Manlove said in a statement.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.
Several other politicians, including Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, posted on social media about Strickland, now 62, after the governor’s office released the names of 12 people Parson pardoned last week.
Among those pardoned were Mark and Patricia McCloskey, whose pointing of a rifle and a pistol from their front lawn at hundreds of protesters marching past their house in June 2020 catapulted them to conservative stardom. In May, Mark McCloskey entered the Republican primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Roy Blunt.
Mark McCloskey pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault in the incident and was fined $750, acknowledging to a judge his actions had endangered others. Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to second-degree misdemeanor harassment and was fined $2,000. As they left the courthouse, Mark McCloskey told reporters he would “do it again.”
In a statement, Mark McCloskey said he and his wife were thankful the governor “righted this wrong” and pardoned them.
Parson has issued pardons on a roughly monthly basis since December to clear a backlog of about 3,000 cases that had accumulated from previous administrations.
Rep. Tony Lovasco, a St. Charles County Republican, called pardoning the McCloskeys the “right move,” but said there were “far greater miscarriages of justice” that deserve the governor’s attention and have bipartisan support.
Among them, he said: Strickland; Bobby Bostic, who was sentenced to 241 years in prison for robbery, kidnapping and other crimes he committed as a teenager; and Patty Prewitt, who has maintained her innocence in the killing of her husband in Holden.
Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, though, called it “beyond disgusting” for Parson to pardon the McCloskeys while men like Strickland remained behind bars.
“The contrast between the governor’s treatment of these cases should offend every Missourian’s sense of justice,” Quade, a Springfield Democrat, said in a statement. “It also proves the governor doesn’t have one.”
State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, a St. Louis Democract, also denounced Parson’s pardons, saying it “ominously underscores that under his watch, justice belongs only to the privileged elite in this state.”
Bosley also said Republicans have pushed back on changing the state’s compensation law for the wrongly convicted. Missouri only allows payments to innocent people exonerated through DNA evidence, which would not be the case for Strickland.
“Both the governor and the attorney general have worked to block the release of innocent men, and the majority party in this state wants to unduly and unjustly punish people who do not deserve it,” Bosley said. “This is clear evidence that the criminal justice system is broken, and we wonder why people — especially people of color — believe justice is not for them.”
In Strickland’s case, which has received significant public outcry, Parson said in June the circumstances didn’t “necessarily make it a priority to jump in front of the line.” He later said he was not convinced Strickland is innocent.
It has been 86 days since Strickland received rare support from Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who said her office had concluded Strickland, who was 18 when he was arrested, is “factually innocent” in the April 25, 1978, shooting at 6934 S. Benton Ave.
Strickland’s innocence claim was supposed to be heard during an evidentiary hearing Aug. 12 and 13, but it has since been pushed. Before that rescheduled hearing, Baker intends to file a motion Aug. 28 asking a Jackson County judge to exonerate Strickland.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which will be able to present evidence at a future hearing, has argued that Strickland received a fair trial in 1979 and has “worked to evade responsibility” for the killings since then.
Now using a wheelchair, Strickland remains imprisoned at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron.