Ricky Kidd spent 23 years in prison for a double murder he did not commit. He’s free now, but has yet to receive a dime in compensation from the state of Missouri.
Larry Callanan, who spent 25 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, was released last summer without so as much as a wooden nickel.
“Larry is one of the lucky ones,” says his St. Louis-based attorney, Javad Khazaeli. That’s because Callanan found stable employment. “He has a good-paying union job with benefits. He has adjusted as well as possible, unlike most people in this situation.” In his free time, he tries to help other wrongfully convicted Missourians, like Lamar Johnson, who is still in prison.
Exonerated people in Missouri are not offered any sort of relief by the state when they are released.
Kevin Strickland has maintained his innocence for more than four decades. He still sits in a Missouri prison despite evidence showing he most likely did not commit the crime he was accused of.
Strickland’s murder conviction came into doubt after the only eyewitness at his trial recanted her testimony. After reading The Star’s coverage of the case, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker recently announced her office’s conviction integrity unit had also found clear and compelling evidence that Strickland is actually innocent. She has asked for his immediate release.
The Missouri Supreme Court will ultimately decide. It typically orders the state attorney general’s office to respond first. Missouri AG Eric Schmitt, who is busy running for the U.S. Senate and suing China over COVID-19, has declined comment. But under both Republicans and Democrats, that office has opposed revisiting almost every wrongful conviction case for more than 20 years.
And even if Strickland is freed, he will have to navigate his new life with no help from the state. Court filings seek his immediate release from prison, but with no money, housing, transportation and access to physical and mental health services, Strickland’s readjustment to society would be so much more difficult than it has to be.
In Missouri, only those exonerated by DNA evidence are eligible for financial relief. Legislation sponsored by Democratic state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley of St. Louis to provide monetary payments and other benefits to other exonerees has gone nowhere over the last two sessions.
Kansas pays exonerated prisoners $65,000 per year for every year spent in prison and $25,000 for every year wrongfully on probation or parole. Mental health and other social services are included in the compensation package, as are housing and tuition assistance and financial literacy training. The state also offers expungement of the wrongful conviction at no cost, a non-monetary benefit not available to innocent people in Missouri.
Iowa and Nebraska offer exonerees similar post-relief compensation. In South Carolina, a pair of exonerated brothers were awarded $31 million each – $1 million for every year they were locked up.
Missouri should acknowledge its responsibility and pay up, too.
— The Kansas City Star Editorial Board