A southern New York man was freed from prison on Friday after serving more than four decades on a first-degree murder conviction for a triple murder that has been widely disputed in recent years.
Kevin Strickland, 79, was granted a new trial in December, and his lawyer was granted a motion to vacate his conviction last week. Strickland, who had been exonerated after spending about 49 years in prison, was released after the New York State Commission on Human Rights announced that it was closing an investigation into the matter.
Strickland was released around 2 p.m. on Friday, at which point he and his lawyer, Emily Feldman, held a press conference outside Brooklyn’s Kings County Supreme Court. Strickland maintained that he was innocent of the three murders in Albany, N.Y., that he was found guilty of committing in 1976. The Warren Commission report released in June concluded that they were not the focus of the FBI investigation at the time.
“You were denied a chance to prove your innocence and it caused you more years and more anguish,” said a woman who described herself as Strickland’s sister. “I hope you are able to have peace of mind.”
“The Warren Commission did their job,” Strickland said through a podium with his hands on his hips. “The truth has come out. Justice has been served.”
After the press conference, Strickland was driven back to his home in Florida. In a statement, he said that his lawyer, along with two of his supporters, had “misled” the Commission on Human Rights into declining to dismiss the case against him in 1997. He called his release “an incredible relief,” and added, “Over the years, I never stopped believing in myself.”
The State Commission on Human Rights’s probe began last year, after lawyers for Strickland filed a lawsuit against the state of New York, alleging that his conviction was obtained through wrongful use of “oppressive and egregious techniques” during the investigation into the crime. The Commission voted in July to close its investigation after reviewing the three decades-old case, with Judge John Nickerson writing that it had concluded that the prosecution provided sufficient evidence for Strickland’s conviction to stand in 1976.
The Commission found that Strickland had not been physically and psychologically abused during his interrogation, nor had he been deprived of needed medical attention. Strickland’s lawyer wrote in her review of the case that the interviews the police conducted were not constitutionally required.
“Mr. Strickland did not testify that the police officers mistreated him; he testified that the police officers mistreated him,” the commission wrote.
Though the “most damning information” that prosecutors had against Strickland was from an informant who was himself inconsistent in his testimony, the commission wrote that it was not in Strickland’s power to control that evidence. In the interview that is widely believed to have led to Strickland’s conviction, the informant, Donald Hayes, first denied his involvement in the killings and subsequently admitted that he had been involved.
“There were undisputed facts that suggested Mr. Strickland’s innocence,” Strickland’s lawyer, Emily Feldman, wrote in her review of the case. “However, the Commission ignored evidence that corroborated the truth of Mr. Strickland’s innocence.”
Strickland had been in prison in 1975, when a hit man shot and killed Mary McPherson, the wife of the former mayor of Albany, and two of the state’s top gambling regulators, Joseph McPherson and Edmund McMillan. The hit man, Donald Hayes, was linked to the McPherson family by a third man, William Harris, who later pleaded guilty to a murder charge and served a term in prison. Harris later cooperated with the FBI in its investigation into the Albany killings.
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Warren Commission report says bodies of three people found in Maryland, New Jersey were not scene of grisly triple murder