Kevin Strickland, 62, 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.
"I'm not necessarily angry. It's a lot. I think I've created emotions that you all don't know about just yet," he told reporters as he left the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron. "Joy, sorrow, fear. I am trying to figure out how to put them together."
He said he would like to get involved in efforts to "keep this from happening to someone else," saying the criminal justice system "needs to be torn down and redone."
A retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge ruled after a three-day evidentiary hearing requested by a Jackson County prosecutor who said evidence used to convict Strickland had since been recanted or disproven. The court wrote that "clear and convincing evidence" was presented that "undermines the Court's confidence in the judgement of conviction." The court noted that no physical evidence linked Strickland to the crime scene and that a key witness recanted before her death.
"Under these unique circumstances, the Court's confidence in Strickland's convictions is so undermined that it cannot stand, and the judgment of conviction must be set aside."
The judge also noted that two other men convicted in the killings later insisted Strickland wasn't involved. They named two other suspects who were never charged.
Strickland is Black, and his first trial ended 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.
The state only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people exonerated through DNA evidence, so Strickland doesn't qualify.