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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson just wielded his pardoning powers to ensure the McCloskeys—the gun-toting couple who waved their weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters last year—would be able to put their misdemeanor guilty pleas behind them.
But two presumably innocent Black men will still continue to languish in prison after failing to make Parson’s roster of 12 pardons and two commutations Tuesday. While both Kevin Strickland and Lamar Johnson were convicted of murder years ago, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike have since agreed that was a mistake: Evidence in each case points to a lack of guilt. The men have long maintained their innocence, too.
“It is beyond disgusting that Mark and Patricia McCloskey admitted they broke the law and within weeks are rewarded with pardons, yet men like Kevin Strickland, who has spent more than 40 years in prison for crimes even prosecutors now say he didn’t commit, remain behind bars with no hope of clemency,” Missouri State House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The McCloskeys, of course, are thrilled with the governor, who’d made a political promise to spare them as they ascended to conservative stardom. Mark McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault after pointing a rifle at the anti-racism protesters who marched past his St. Louis mansion last June, and Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment. Mark McCloseky is also running for a Senate seat in the state and scored a speaking slot alongside his wife at the Republican National Convention last year.
“As many of you know, Patty and I faced political prosecution for having the audacity to defend our lives and property from an angry mob,” the couple wrote in a statement shared to Mark McCloskey’s Twitter. “Today we are incredibly thankful that Gov. Mike Parson righted this wrong and granted us pardons.”
Parson’s office noted in a press release Tuesday that he “has instructed his legal team to continue reviewing clemency files and working to reduce the backlog inherited by his administration,” meaning more pardons could be on the way.
Still, the governor’s announcement inadvertently drew attention to the people some Missourians believe deserve the same kind of second chance: Strickland and Johnson.
Strickland is currently locked up for a triple murder that even prosecutors say he didn’t commit, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yet after more than four decades in prison and a key witness in the case recanting her testimony, Parson said he wasn’t totally sold on prioritizing Strickland—who was convicted by an all-white jury. After all, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office still maintains that Strickland is guilty.
Nonetheless, Strickland has requested a full pardon and told the governor when he applied for clemency that he had “the power not only to correct my wrongful conviction, but also to ensure that my innocence is finally recognized,” according to the Post-Dispatch.
Missouri has seen two pardons for murder in two centuries, one professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School, told KCUR, a local NPR affiliate in Kansas City. ”
But the Midwest Innocence Project still has hope for Strickland’s freedom and set up a GoFundMe so people can help if he’s eventually released. They’ve filed a motion to have the case considered by the Circuit Court in DeKalb Court, too, and Parson could also sign into law a bill that would allow prosecuting attorneys to file “innocence motions” in an effort to free people like Strickland, according to KCUR.
Another person still hoping for a pardon is Johnson, who has so far spent 26 years in prison for a murder that two other people have confessed to. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner also believes he’s innocent.
“This case presents extraordinary circumstances and undeniably important questions fundamental to our justice system,” Johnson’s legal team wrote in a brief to the Missouri Supreme Court last year. “The office responsible for prosecuting Lamar Johnson has determined, after an investigation spanning more than a year, that he is innocent by clear and convincing evidence.”
The Missouri Supreme Court still shot down Johnson’s chance at a new trial in March, according to the Associated Press. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office had successfully argued Gardner lacked authority to make that request decades after Johnson was convicted.
"The problem is, I don't know what else to do. I mean, what else is needed? The only thing that's that I haven't been able to present is DNA,” Johnson told CBS “Sunday Morning” of his case.
"And God, I wish there was some DNA," he added, crying. "I'm sorry."
Parson’s office did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment. But, eventually, the governor might have to answer for why it’s taking so long to consider the plight of Johnson and Strickland.
“Governor Parson granted 12 pardons and two of those people were Mark and Patricia McCloskey,” the Ethical Society of Police, a St. Louis group founded by Black officers, said in a tweet Tuesday. “Missouri’s racist criminal justice system put two innocent black men (Kevin Strickland & Lamar Johnson) in prison, but the Gov chose to ignore them.”