By Emily Rittman
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV) — From prison to a stage at Crown Center, this week has been an emotional one for Kevin Strickland during his long journey to fight for his freedom and prove his innocence.
Following his long-sought release from custody, Strickland flipped a switch to light up the 100-foot tree Mayor’s Christmas Tree in front of a cheering crowd Friday.
It’s one of many firsts he will experience now that a judge ruled that his wrongful conviction must be set aside. Strickland was incarcerated for more than 40 years. He was convicted in 1979 of three murders that he maintained he did not commit.
Strickland was released Tuesday from the Western Missouri Correctional Center. Judge James Welsh ruled earlier this week that the evidence used to convict Strickland had been disproven and a key witness recanted before she died.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Strickland said Tuesday with his attorneys standing by his side.
On Friday, he was a special guest of Mayor Quinton Lucas for the Mayor’s Christmas Tree lighting. Growing up in Kansas City, Kevin Strickland never attended the event.
“This is an experience I’ve never experienced in my life,” Kevin Strickland said. “What was it like last year? There are no words for that. That’s a memory I’m trying to shove out the back door.”
Strickland watched fireworks explode above the Mayor’s Christmas Tree as a free man. He spent Thanksgiving with his family.
“What made it even more special was the fact I got to spend it with the majority of my family and most of all with God and with Kevin that hadn’t happened in forever,” Strickland’s brother Roland Strickland said.
Strickland started off his Christmas season with an invite to Crown Center for the Mayor’s Christmas Tree lighting.
“I was honored to receive it,” Kevin Strickland said.
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu was originally slated to be the mayor’s special guest but cancelled because of schedule changes.
Strickland will not receive any compensation for time lost during his incarceration.
The state of Missouri does not have a statute to compensate a person wrongfully convicted of a crime unless they are exonerated through DNA.
A GoFundMe account to help Strickland adjust to life outside of prison has raised more than $1.2 million.
“He hasn’t known any other life but behind the walls of a penitentiary for the past 43 years. What a lot of us do and take for granted, it’s not easy for him,” Roland Strickland said. “I’m just there to help him any time he may need it. I’m there to support him.”
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