KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A GoFundMe fundraiser to benefit Kevin Strickland grew to more than $900,000 two days after he was exonerated in a 1978 triple murder that he has always said he did not commit.
The Midwest Innocence Project set up the online fundraiser in June, saying at the time it was confident he would be released but would face “many hurdles adjusting to life” on the outside. The organization was seeking donations to help Strickland pay for basic necessities and a place to live.
By noon Wednesday, $381,616 had been raised from more than 6,500 donations, well in excess of the $150,000 goal listed. That goal was adjusted to $430,000.
By 4 p.m., the fundraiser again exceeded its goal with $434,133 in donations given by more than 7,500 people. It ballooned to more than $690,000 by Wednesday night.
By 8 a.m. Thursday, it rose to $821,108. And as of noon Thursday, the fundraiser had received $900,742 in donations from 15,400 people.
Tricia Rojo Bushnell, executive director at the Midwest Innocence Project, said the response has been overwhelming. She said every time she looks it is another surprise.
“I think it’s a reminder of our shared humanity and how much people really believe that the wrongfully convicted should be compensated, right?” she said.
The response is a testament that people care about justice, she said.
“The state of Missouri isn’t going to pay Kevin Strickland, but you know, strangers from all around the world are,” Rojo Bushnell said.
Under Missouri’s compensation law, only prisoners who prove their innocence through a specific DNA testing statute are eligible for payments.
Exonerees like Strickland have relied on nonprofits and other people who have been released from prison to help them build back their lives.
Strickland, who spent more than 40 years behind bars and suffered the longest wrongful conviction in Missouri history, also will not receive a parole officer to help find counseling, housing or work.
Hundreds of people making the donations left words of encouragement for Strickland and shamed Missouri for its lack of compensation for people like him.
“I hope the fact that so many care, helps you to enjoy each day as it comes,” wrote Mark Edgington.
“Even Mississippi and Alabama, long at the bottom of the list for education, health care, etc. have wrongful conviction reimbursement,” wrote Cheryl M. Furr. “Shame on Missouri and any other state that is as backwards. Good luck, Kevin and know that all of us wish you the best in the coming years.”
Geraldine Woolfolk wrote praising his lawyers and those who worked to get him justice. Woolfolk’s family hopes their small gesture of support will remind Strickland that there are people of goodwill in this country.
“My family and I are incredulous over the miscarriage of justice for this innocent gentleman,” she wrote. “It is cruel that the state he resides in will give him no compensation for the years stolen from him.”
Natalya Cherry wrote: “No fundraising goal, no matter how high, approximates the value of stolen decades and health, let alone establishing new life against all odds. I hope to return and keep giving as I’m able, and I hope Mr. Strickland experiences restoration, wholeness, and defiant joy.”
Karen Teitel acknowledged that money won’t buy back the four-plus decades.
“But I hope the massive support for Mr. Strickland gives him the support to live the rest of his life in comfort and offers him the ability to have wonderful experiences,” Tetel wrote.
One donor said she was the same age as Strickland.
“I’m trying to imagine being wrongfully convicted when I was 18 and spending all my life since then in prison for a crime I didn’t commit — and then to get no compensation from the state that imprisoned me?” wrote Tina Rhea. “I wish Mr. Strickland all the best for the rest of his life.”
The Kansas City Star’s Bill Lukitsch and Cortlynn Stark contributed to this report.