A Missouri man wrongly convicted of a triple murder in 1978 and jailed for over 42 years has been exonerated and released.
Kevin Strickland, 62, has claimed his innocence since his arrest at the age of 18. He was sentenced in June 1979.
Mr Strickland said outside court: “I didn’t think that day would come.”
It is the longest wrongful incarceration in state history, but under Missouri law he is unlikely to receive financial compensation.
According to data from the National Registry of Exonerations, which has recorded exonerations since 1989, it is also the seventh longest wrongful conviction recognized in the United States.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered Mr Strickland’s immediate release from state prison after 15,487 days behind bars.
Lawyers for the Midwest Innocence Project, who have been working for months on Mr. Strickland’s release, told the BBC they were “delighted” with the news.
“We were convinced that any judge who saw the evidence would find Mr. Strickland innocent and that is exactly what happened,” Tricia Rojo Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, said in a statement.
She added: “Nothing will give him back the 43 years he lost and he is going home to a state that will not pay him a dime for the time he stole from him. It is not justice. “.
According to the Midwest Innocence Project, the state of Missouri only compensates acquitted prisoners through DNA evidence, not eyewitness testimony.
Mr. Strickland was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years after being linked with the murderous ransacking of a house in Kansas City on April 25, 1978.
That night, four assailants shot dead three people inside the house: Sherrie Black, 22, Larry Ingram, 22, and John Walker, 20.
A fourth victim – Cynthia Douglas, 20 – came away with injuries after pretending to be dead. On a hunch from her sister’s boyfriend, police arrested teenager Mr Strickland and then allegedly pressured Ms Douglas to point him out in a line-up.
Mr Strickland told police he was at home watching television. No physical evidence has ever linked him to the crimes.
His first trial, in 1979, ended in a final verdict, after a black juror out of 12 jury members demanded his acquittal.
In his second trial, an all-white jury convicted Mr. Strickland on one count of capital murder and two counts of second degree murder.
Years later, Ms Douglas would recant as the sole eyewitness, writing to the Midwest Innocence Project that “things weren’t clear back then, but now I know more and I would like to help this person if I can”.
Ms Douglas died before she could formally revoke her testimony against Mr Strickland, but her mother, sister and daughter all testified in court that she picked ‘the wrong guy’.
Jackson County prosecutors began reviewing Mr Strickland’s conviction last November and – under new Missouri law – filed a motion calling for his immediate discharge and release.
“In these unique circumstances, the Court’s confidence in Strickland’s conviction is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the sentencing judgment must be set aside,” Judge James Welsh wrote in Tuesday’s ruling.
Ms. Rojo Bushnell of the Midwest Innocence Project said the procedure “showed how incredibly difficult it is for the system to correct an error.” The prosecutor admitted Mr. Strickland’s innocence and it still took months. It shouldn’t be that difficult.