One of the worst crimes any government can commit is to imprison an innocent person. The unjust denial of liberty formed a pillar of the conservative tea party movement during the previous decade and inspired conservatives in the Texas Legislature to get solidly behind bills designed to free the innocent, compensate them for their losses and to punish wayward prosecutors.
In Missouri, however, Gov. Mike Parson can’t bring himself to recognize an egregious injustice when he sees it and then take corrective action. The case of Kevin Strickland, 62, is one where a judge, prosecutors, witnesses and the defense all seem to agree: He did not commit the 1978 triple murder for which he is serving a life sentence. The fact that he is Black appears to have weighed heavily in the judicial railroading that landed him in prison.
If Strickland were in Texas, he would undoubtedly be free by now, and his cause not only would be embraced by top Republicans but they would also be joining Democrats in demanding millions of dollars in compensation for him. We know this because of Texas GOP lawmakers’ stellar record in championing the cause of at least two exonerees honored on the legislative floor — one Black and the other white — after having been caught in similar webs of injustice. Is there something about liberty and justice that Texas Republicans know that has eluded their Missouri counterparts?
We should be clear that some Republicans in the Missouri Legislature have, in fact, joined Democrats in calling for Parson to pardon Strickland for the 1978 murder of three people in Kansas City. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker says Strickland should be released, as have federal prosecutors and Jackson County’s presiding judge. The Kansas City Star reported in September that two men who pleaded guilty in the killings swore that Strickland was not with them during the shooting. The only eyewitness also recanted and said Strickland should be released.
Parson, however, says that issuing a full pardon to Strickland is not a “priority,” and that Strickland was found guilty “by a jury of his peers.” Only someone in Parson’s protective racial bubble could come to that conclusion. During Strickland’s trial, prosecutors removed the only four Blacks on the list as potential “peers” on the jury, ensuring he would face an all-white panel along with white lawyers and a white judge.
It should be a top priority for Parson because an innocent man appears to be paying every day for a crime all others in the case insist he did not commit. His injustice is compounded by the fact that a racially biased prosecutorial system ensured his cries of innocence would be stifled for four decades. Parson should look to his fellow Republicans in Texas to see how compassion and conservatism don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.