Prisons

The Government Says These Missouri Men Are Innocent. It Won't Release Them From Prison.

Kevin Strickland, Christopher Dunn, and Lamar Johnson are still paying for crimes that government officials say they did not commit.

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Kevin Strickland, Christopher Dunn, and Lamar Johnson all have something in common: they all have spent decades in the Missouri prison system, they all maintain their innocence, and the cases that led to their convictions have all fallen apart. Yet the men remain behind bars with no release in sight despite various government actors suggesting they should have their verdicts overturned.

It's hard to cook up a more nightmarish scenario.

Dunn was convicted in 1991 of the murder of Ricco Rogers, who was shot while on a neighborhood porch when Dunn was 18. The lone evidence against Dunn: the testimony of two boys who said later that they had been coerced by prosecutors and the police.

"Coupled with the evidence in the record that Petitioner had an alibi," wrote Texas County (Missouri) Circuit Court Judge William E. Hickle in a habeas corpus ruling issued last fall. "This Court does not believe that any jury would now convict Christopher Dunn under these facts." 

But Hickle's finding is not enough to set Dunn free, thanks to a Missouri Supreme Court precedent that holds such "freestanding" claims of innocence be limited to prisoners on death row. In other words, had Dunn been sentenced to die for the 1990 crime, he would be in a more advantageous position today. Instead, he received life without parole and thus has no recourse. 

"To sit there and watch the judge's reaction to everything the witnesses said, I just knew there was a chance I was going to walk out of there," Dunn told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April. "To hear him say I was innocent, but yet he can't free me because I'm not a death row inmate, I didn't understand."

Johnson and Strickland's cases are even more absurd, in that prosecutors agree they are innocent. "My job is to apologize" to Strickland, said Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker at a press conference in May. "It is important to recognize when the system has made wrongs…and what we did in this case was wrong. So, to Mr. Strickland, I am profoundly sorry."

Now 62, Strickland was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1979 for a triple-murder that took place the year prior in Kansas City. He has had several heart attacks and sometimes needs a wheelchair.

Strickland's conviction was also circumstantial, hinging on testimony from a woman named Cynthia Douglas, who picked him from a lineup. She, too, later recanted and said that police had pressured her to select Strickland. His first trial ended in a hung jury, and he was convicted on the second go-round.

"I think I've been destroyed," Strickland told the local ABC affiliate in June. "I've been placed in an environment where I had to adapt to living with all sorts of confessed criminals. The way I see things now is not normal, I would think, for somebody in society."

St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner zeroed in on Johnson's case two years back and sought to have him released. Convicted of the 1994 murder of Marcus Boyd, the 49-year-old's story follows a familiar arc: A jury delivered their verdict based only on testimony from a witness who later recanted, admitting police had paid him for his services.

"What we uncovered was devastating, not only to myself, but to the criminal justice system," said Gardner, who described the evidence pointing to Johnson's innocence as "overwhelming" and noted that the jury heard information that was "false and perjured." Two other men, Phillip Campbell and James Howard, confessed to the murder in 1996 and 2002, respectively, and signed affidavits saying that Johnson was not involved. Howard is in prison for a different homicide, and Campbell served just 6 years for a crime that Johnson is still paying for.

The fates of Johnson and Strickland are in the hands of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who insists on Strickland's guilt and says that Johnson exhausted all his appeals.

If Schmitt does not petition for their verdicts to be overturned, it would be up to Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, to issue executive clemency. Parson yesterday released a list of pardons that included Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who attracted national media attention after waving their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis.

In the spirit of forgiveness and redemption, their pardoning makes sense; his failure to also pardon Dunn, Strickland, and Johnson does not. If Parson wants to make a point about prosecutorial overreach, he should grant mercy to prisoners incarcerated for crimes the government concedes they did not commit.

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  1. Every time some ultraliberal shit heel tells you that Kamala Harris isn’t a cop…point to this story and let them know that what she did in California, repeatedly, as Attorney General is the same thing these Trump-loving, flyover country hillbillies from the Ozarks are doing to these three men.

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    2. You know the sad thing is that it doesn’t matter if your Republican or Democrat. Missouri had a democrat AG and Governor for years in Jay Nixon who never seen a conviction he didn’t like! Just because Jean Peters Baker is a democrat and stepping up for Kevin Strickland don’t be fooled! Strickland is the only one , I’m sure of hundreds of convictions that she has reviewed that she didn’t like!!
      Jean’s own advisor and former trial judge overturned her own case and conviction of Ken Middleton 16 years ago and only a jurisdictional defect has kept him in prison. Now with this new Senate Bill 53 she has jurisdiction to ask a judge to free Strickland and will do that on August 28th but will ignore the order that has sat there unchallenged for 16 years that a man was wrongfully convicted 30 years ago. So is it justice to use your jurisdiction to free Strickland but deny jurisdiction to free Middleton? Sickening!! free-kenmiddleton.com

  2. Oh great now they’re fluffing Gardner.

  3. Now do January 6 billy.

    1. The cop who killed Ashli Babbit was never charged, so there’s nothing to pardon.

      1. Apparently he’s lucky to be alive – there seem to have been a loooot of suicides among cops who where there that day.

      2. Cop? What cop? You see any cop around here? Not me.
        That is not the cop you are looking for. Move along.
        Besides, it was a righteous shoot. Broad daylight, unarmed, female, white, possible trespasser, Possible journalist.

      3. The cop was even identified.

        1. “Never”

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  4. Parson yesterday released a list of pardons that included Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who attracted national media attention after waving their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis.

    In the spirit of forgiveness and redemption, their pardoning makes sense; his failure to also pardon Dunn, Strickland, and Johnson does not.

    Yeah, if this is as clear cut as it seems, this is a damned shame.

    1. btw, the McClosky’s never should have been prosecuted.

        1. We are awaiting the rest of your brilliant retort.

          1. The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed… Unless you are in your own home, defending yourself and it from a rioutous mob who have very recently vandalized private property and are currently trespassing while making direct threats and possibly brandishing weapons.

            In that situation, you absolutely cannot bear firearms. Because reasons.

      1. Black Rifles Matter

  5. If the officers are still alive the restitution should come from their pockets.

    1. And democrats should be sincerely concerned with fair and transparent elections.

    2. Kinda weird how they keep offing themselves.

  6. The fates of Johnson and Strickland are in the hands of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who insists on Strickland’s guilt

    Why? What does Schmitt know, and how does he know it?

    1. He filed a pleading in Strickland’s habeas corpus case contending that the evidence was not sufficient to show he was “actually innocent.” https://www.nhregister.com/news/article/Missouri-attorney-general-Strickland-is-guilty-16309540.php. Effective August 28, all of these men can have the prosecuting attorney file a case to have them released and the court can order that release. Although the attorney general can offer evidence that they are not entitled to relief, he cannot appeal a decision releasing them.

  7. What the hell is wrong with you?

    You have a slam dunk case here. The judge saying his hands are tied still has blood on his hands. We watched judge Sullivan and the appeals court above him stick their middle finger up to justice, the law and legal precedent simply for partisan reasons.

    And this guy says “woopsie.. the supreme court says I can’t release you”? Screw that. If you truly believe he is factually innocent and not simply “not guilty” by legal technicality, then you are morally obligated to order his release and double dog dare the state to appeal and the supreme court to overrule. Just following orders has a bad rap for a reason.

    That is the line you should have followed.

    But no… You go with

    “Parson yesterday released a list of pardons that included Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who attracted national media attention after waving their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis.

    In the spirit of forgiveness and redemption, their pardoning makes sense; his failure to also pardon Dunn, Strickland, and Johnson does not”

    You tie it to a wholely partisan political prosecution and say “spirit of forgiveness and redemption?”

    Are you really that stupid?

    Nobody needs to forgive or redeem any of these people. They are all factually innocent. At least the McCloseys actually did something, even if there is no rational basis for criminal charges. The judge in the Dunn case apparently believes he was not involved in any way with the crime. What in the hell does he need forgiveness for? What should the governor redeem him from?

    And for the libertarian firebrand… What happened to righteous indignation? What happened to being above partisan politics? What happened to being beyond the need to signal to the in-group??

    Everything was going along well until that hideous wrap-up. But we have to signal, and signal hard. McCloskey was not the lever to pull here. They have been on the radar for a year. We don’t know how long the governor has been paying attention to these cases.

    The scorn should lie at the feet of prosecutors who fight to keep innocent people in jail (or put them there) and judges who defer to the system rather than stand for an innocent.

    That being said… If the judge and the prosecutor both personally appealed to the governor and then he didn’t act… Then we could start laying this at his feet as some sort of failing.

    1. This kind of rogue, activist, righteously indignant judge would be fun to watch. But I doubt many judges would do a release that their supremeys said not to. This is why the “king” (governor) needs to do this. It’s literally his job.

  8. > If Parson wants to make a point about prosecutorial overreach, he should grant mercy to prisoners incarcerated for crimes the government concedes they did not commit.

    Is *that* why he should do that? Just to “make a point”?

  9. It’s my understanding that, at least at the federal level, part of the process of accepting a pardon is that the convicted person must accept / affirm that they are in fact guilty of the crime in question.

    I wonder if that’s also the case at the state level in Missouri.

    1. Was that a pardon, or a commutation? One of the reasons for pardons is supposed to be a miscarriage of justice.

    2. You understand wrong. Ford’s pre-emptive pardon of Nixon neither cited particular crimes nor required Nixon to confess guilt.

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