Lawmakers rally behind man who says he’s been wrongfully imprisoned for decades

Kevin Strickland was convicted of a triple murder in 1979. Since then, a key witness recanted and the prosecutor’s office has said Strickland is innocent -- yet he remains behind bars.
10:39 | 06/11/21

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Transcript for Lawmakers rally behind man who says he’s been wrongfully imprisoned for decades
Reporter: We met Kevin Strickland on his 62nd birthday. Any thoughts in particular on this day? I was determined to spend this birthday awake as long as I could. You know? Never know if it's going to be the last one. Reporter: This is the 43rd birthday he's spent behind bars. What it does to someone to be behind bars for 43 years? I think I've been destroyed. Reporter: What he calls his destruction is not just the result of decades in prison. It's decades in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. Years spent dreaming of a life outside his prison cell. Do you think that a lot? Yes. Want it bad. Want it bad. People hurt you. So 43 years. How have you survived this long, to this point? Hope. Prayer. Desire to return to society and bond with my children and grandchildren. Reporter: The prosecutor who originally tried Strickland for a triple murder in 1978 is now deceased. But the same office with prosecutor Jean Peters hyme baker is at its Helling is saying he's innocent. It is important to recognize when the system has made wrongs. And what we did in this case was wrong. Does that recognition that you've been done wrong make it any better? Yes, coming from her. Yes. Because she didn't have to say that. Reporter: That was more than a month ago. And yet here Mr. Strickland sits. What he calls preparing for the grave. Turn 62 today. And I just don't feel like I have a lot of time left. I've experienced a couple of heart attacks. I've got high blood pressure. Reporter: Yet people are now standing up for Strickland, who's now wheelchair-bound. The midwest innocence project took on his case three years ago. I think where the prosecutor and other authority figures agree that he should come home, I would certainly hope that our elected officials would give it a really hard and quick look. Reporter: More than a dozen state lawmakers are now calling on Missouri governor Mike parson to pardon Strickland. Among them the Republican chair of the state's house commiee that oversees their prison system. So now that we've gotten to this point, I'm curious why Mr. Strickland is behind bars. The only thing I can tell you about that, slightly in defense of this system, that is it believes in finality. Reporter: That finality came for Kevin Strickland in 1979 following his arrest a year earlier for the gruesome triple homicide of Larry Ingram, John walker, and sherry black. Police arriving at this Kansas City home found bloodstained sheets, trash-covered floors. Concerned neighbors looking at investigators in horror. That night is seared in Strickland's memory. I know exactly what I was I was at home. Reporter: Relatives confirmed his alibi at the time. So at what point do police come to you and start accusing you of this triple murder? The next morning. And you are thinking? This can't be happening. Reporter: The crime shook the local community. While Strickland was in custody charged with the murders, two other suspects -- kilmed a Kins and Vincent bell -- were on the run. Police found Strickland's fingerprint on bell's car, which Strickland said he drove because bell was a childhood friend who lived a couple of blocks away. Two houses between his family home and my home. My home, two houses, his home. And I met them, and I was in the sixth grade. On that night, April 25th, 1978, you see them? Or you don't see them at all that night? Yes, I did, earlier that day. 5:00 or 6:00, I saw them. You had no idea their plans for the night? Didn't share them with me. Reporter: He also says he was confident Cynthia Douglas, the only surviving eyewitness, knew him and would know he was not involved. Cynthia Douglas then points you out as being one of the shooters? Right. Yeah. Disbelief. Total disbelief. Reporter: Strickland now says he believes she may have been coerced. She didn't do this intentionally. Police department pushed her into identifying me. I believe they told her, either you're going to work with us or we're going to place these charges on you, might have suggested she was involved in some kind of way. Reporter: His first trial ended in a hung jury, the lone black juror the only holdout. Then you have a trial. No part of you thought you're going to end up getting convicted? No way, the system works. That's what you thought? This is a capital charge. This is a big deal. They don't make mistakes and grab the wrong person, do they? What did the prosecutor at the time -- do you remember what he said? He come over to the table. I'm sitting there. He tells my attorney, he said, "I'll make sure this doesn't happen next time." What that meant is the second trial, the prosecutor used every one of what's called peremptory strikes. A prosecutor is allowed to strike people -- both sides are -- to strike people without giving a reason. He used every peremptory strike - to strike the remaining black jurors from the pool. Mr. Strickland was convicted by an all-white jury. You feel that race played a role in this? Totally. Totally. What was it like hearing the when you're in the courtroom as a teenager, for something that you have maintained you didn't do? I didn't know I could cry that bad. No, this can't be happening. Reporter: Bell and Adkins ultimately admitted to the murders and cleared Strickland in sworn confessions, yet Strickland's murder conviction was never overturned. Then in February of 2009, a turning point after Cynthia Douglas sent an email to the midwest innocence project with the subject "Wrongfully charged." I am seeking info on how to help someone that was wrongfully accused. I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I The most important piece of evidence was a recantation of a witness. Do you think you're going to get out this year? More hopeful now than ever. Reporter: Last week the Missouri supreme court denied a petition to free him, something his lawyer calls a procedural barrier. They don't have to give an explanation, it's ranner stamp denied, that's it? That's right, it was simply denied, no explanation given. Reporter: Kevin Strickland has served more than 15,000 days behind bars. If exonerated, he will be one of the longest wrongful imprisonments in U.S. History. Let's just call it what it is. This is wrong. And everyone that works in this system must find a way to do the right thing now. The right thing is getting Mr. Strickland out. So one of those people who could do that, the governor, he just compiled the list, announced 36 names of people he's going to pardon, you get an out of jail free card, but not for you, Mr. Strickland. Help me understand why this is so difficult. I don't know the answer. I don't know why. Reporter: But here in the "Show me" state of Missouri, it's unclear just what else Mr. Strickland would have to show in order to prove his innocence. According to injustice watch, a nonprofit watchdog organization, since 2000, the state attorney general's office has fought nearly every wrongful conviction case. What's your next step at this point? We took that petition that was filed in the Missouri supreme court, and we filed that same petition now in the circuit court, DeKalb county, the county where he is being held in prison. They have asked the attorney general to respond and to make known their position in July. Reporter: Another avenue is senate bill 53. The Missouri legislature just passed a bill which allows a prosecutor to file a motion for new trial to overturn a wrongful conviction. So if that law goes into effect, the prosecutor would have the power to file a motionfor new trial to overturn Mr. Strickland's conviction. And you only want to be pardoned or exonerated, that a commutation of your sentence would not be enough. Why is that? That's kind of saying, I did it but you feel like I've served enough time. I didn't do it. No. No, wipe it off. How does it feel to know that the two people who admit they were responsible for the crime, bell and Adkins, they've served their time, served about 10 years each. They did it, they said they did it, you say you didn't do it, and here you sit? Unbelievable. I mean, I don't -- how could somebody admit to doing it, come in and go out, and I denied it from the start, and I'm still here? You keep taking me back to feelings. And I really can't put them in words. You don't feel anymore? I'm kind of numb. Reporter: One thing he does feel is the burdensome sense of loss. His childhood home now an empty lot. We had a nice little house here. Reporter: His brother, who's always maintained that Strickland was home on the night of those murders, tells us their mother may not have much time One of the things that Kevin speaks about obsessively is that he would like to see my mother before she's gone. It doesn't look like that may happen. I don't believe that my mother may be with us more than one or two years longer. Reporter: Strickland and his family continue to hope that one day they'll be reunited, although some will never see him free. My father never lost faith in Kevin. My father passed in 2011. I believe that was heartbreaking for my father, not to see his son released from prison. Because that meant so much to Any bucket list item that you dream of being able to do? I want to go to the ocean. You know, I've never been on a beach. I want to go far out in the ocean where you can't see any land any direction. Not just go out there, but get in that water. I want to feel the power of god's creation. I want to feel that water.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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