Two Missouri Inmates, Two Tales of Justice Delayed
Once an innocent person is entangled in the criminal justice system, it’s damningly difficult to wrench them free.
The public is only vaguely aware of this. After all, that’s the point. Someone sentenced to prison is out of the public eye. Out of sight, out of mind.
Yes, in recent years there have been highly publicized cases where inmates are exonerated, found to be completely innocent of a crime that they’ve been serving prison time for. Those cases take years of painstaking legal work. Years as in decades, as a rule.
My city, Kansas City, is in the glaring media spotlight currently because of such a case.
Kevin Strickland, 62 has served time for three 1978 murders that a widening swath of legal experts believe he did not commit. He was 19 when he was convicted.
The state of Missouri, via the attorney general’s office, is fighting Strickland’s release at every turn. Despite a key witness reportedly attempting to recant her id of Strickland. Despite the insistence of his innocence by others involved in the case. And despite the current county prosecutor’s investigation and declaration that Strickland is innocent.
The legislature had to pass a new law giving the county prosecutor the ability to take the case back to court. That’s happening now with an evidentiary hearing.
For sure, Missouri’s stand is heavily politicized. It’s about sounding tough on crime, pleasing a GOP line scripted for future political advertisements, over an honest assessment of the facts.
If Strickland’s story isn’t embarrassing enough for the state, there is a lesser-known case, one that’s equally damning on Missouri’s commitment to justice.
This is not a story about innocence. It’s one of fairness and humanity.
Bobby Bostic should have walked out of a Missouri prison years ago.
But when a judge sentences you to serve 241 years at the age of 18, for crimes committed at the age of 16, the concept of walking free is swallowed by reality.
Until now. A new law, written to manage the complexities of Bostic’s case, is allowing him to go before the parole board early in November.
It would be disingenuous to claim that Bostic as a juvenile offender simply made some poor choices. He went on a drug-addled crime spree of robberies, targeting good Samaritans that were delivering gifts to impoverished families in St. Louis.
He committed serious crimes, threatening the victims with a gun. But the bullet that was fired, thankfully only grazed a man.
No one was murdered. No one was even seriously injured, at least not in the outward physical sense. The trauma he and his older accomplice inflicted could very well have caused lifelong complications of PTSD. Especially for the woman they kidnapped, and whom the older man of the duo sexually assaulted.
At Bostic’s sentencing, the now retired judge Evelyn Baker tossed a verbal bullet. She told the young man that he’d “die in the Department of Corrections.”
Baker regrets the remark and the judicial ignorance that caused her to pile on years of time. She’s admitted to many in the media that back then, she judged the crimes of the child before her as if he was already an adult, fully able to reason and contemplate the consequences of his actions.
We now know that a 16-year-old boy’s brain is not fully developed. Conversely, that reason for leniency at a juvenile’s sentencing, also begs to consider Bostic’s capacity for rehabilitation. He’s had time to mature.
The judge was Black, as is Bostic. In fact, Baker was Missouri’s first Black female judge at the circuit court level.
At the time, the idea of juveniles as “super predators” had taken hold, causing some to see violent youth as utterly incapable of redemption.
Through the years Bostic has drawn a fair level of support. His story has been retold by major newspapers, television stations local and national.
The ACLU of Missouri has helped spread the word, not only to Bostic’s case specifically, but to the changes necessary to the law and attitudes so that his situation won’t be repeated. There are no guarantees in how he’ll be judged by the parole board.
Somehow, the secret sauce of just the right amount of media attention, the building of political and social pressure has just never coalesced around Bostic.
Kim Kardashian has not called. Nor has any number of celebrities who have attached themselves to the causes of people incarcerated who are believed to be innocent.
Probably it’s because he’s a convict, a St. Louis man from a poor family with few resources, a fact that is only exacerbated by the amount of time he’s already served.
At 42 years old, Bostic has served longer than many people who commit far more serious crimes, even murder.
That fact alone, deserves deep scrutiny.
Often, there aren’t legal levers in place to argue a new hearing or trial. Witnesses die. There’s a changing of the guard in prosecutor’s offices and within police departments. And always, there are new crimes being committed by others, the daily hum of violence that absorbs the attention and time of everyone in criminal justice.
Stopping to look backward, or even directly at those who are imprisoned under questionable evidence or for unfair sentences, is just not the norm.
©2021 Mary Sanchez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.