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Kevin Strickland answers questions during an evidentiary hearing regarding his innocence on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021 in Jackson County Circuit Court in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City man who has been jailed for more than 40 years for a triple murder adamantly and repeatedly denied having anything to do with the crime during testimony Monday in an evidentiary hearing that could lead to his freedom.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with these murders. By no means was I anywhere close to that crime scene,” said Kevin Strickland, who said he has been working toward his freedom since he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1979.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and other legal and political leaders say Strickland was wrongfully convicted. She said evidence used to convict him had been recanted or disproven since his trial.

“This is a triple murder in which three young people were executed,” Peters Baker said Monday. “The tragedy was made much, much worse by Kevin Strickland’s conviction.”

The evidentiary hearing in Strickland’s case comes after months of delays caused by legal procedures and canceled hearings prompted mostly by motions filed by the state attorney general’s office. Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, has said he believes Strickland is guilty of the murders.

Attorneys for Strickland and the Attorney General’s office indicated during opening statements that the statements from Cynthia Douglas, the only survivor of the shootings, identifying Strickland as the shooter would be central to determining Strickland’s fate. Strickland’s supporters said Douglas recanted her identification before she died.

Andrew Clarke, an assistant prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office, said evidence existed to show Strickland was guilty. He said recorded phone calls between Douglas and her husband while he was incarcerated would show she was not interested in helping Strickland prove his innocence.

Clarke also said one of Strickland’s fingerprints was found on a car used the night of the killings. It was owned by Vincent Bell, who later pleaded guilty to the murders.

Strickland testified that he often drove the car for Bell, who did not have a driver’s license and he was surprised more of his fingerprints weren’t found on the car. Strickland also acknowledged he gave Bell some shotgun shells two to three weeks before the killings after Bell said he wanted to test a shotgun he was given. But Strickland maintained he did not know they would be used in a triple murder.

Strickland said he drank beer and smoked marijuana before police came to his home to question him about the killings.

During cross-examination on Monday from assistant prosecutor Christine Krug, Strickland acknowledged it was the first time in 43 years that he had ever said he was under the influence at the time.

Strickland, 62, was convicted in the April 25, 1978, fatal shootings of Larry Ingram, 21; John Walker, 20; and Sherrie Black, 22, in Kansas City.

Strickland, a Black man, saw his first trial end in a hung jury when the only Black juror, a woman, held out for acquittal. After his second trial in 1979, he was convicted by an all-white jury of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

Strickland has always maintained that he was home watching television and had nothing to do with the killings, which happened when he was 18 years old.