I'm Ricky Kidd. In 1997, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for double homicide — a crime I didn’t commit. I couldn’t afford a lawyer, and the public defender I was assigned didn’t have time or the resources to prove my innocence. I spent 23 years behind bars trying to prove the things my public defender should have found in the first place. In August of 2019, a judge ruled that I was innocent and released me. After I got out, I started "I Am Resilience," an organization that raises awareness about those who have been wrongly convicted. Last month, I got married and, in December, we're expecting a baby daughter.

And I’m Sean O’Brien, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. With the help of UMKC clinical students and my co-counsel, Cindy Dodge, I represented Ricky for more than a decade and eventually got him released last year. I’ve spent decades working to overturn wrongful convictions, especially for inmates on death row. Before that I was the chief public defender in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1985 through 1989.

Ricky’s story and how it illustrates the greater crisis in America’s public defender systems was the subject of a PBS NewsHour podcast called “Broken Justice,” released last year. In October, about a year after Ricky was released, producer Frank Carlson checked in with him for a special episode. Subscribe, download and leave a comment wherever you get your podcasts.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/w8txwatoi1061.png


Ricky: I’m happy that we had this time! It is always fun to be with the PBS NewsHour team, along with the one individual who first believed in me, who ultimately never left my side until I came home. A fun and exciting year it has been and looking forward to the next chapter with I Am Resilience/new baby/marriage/purposed living. Feel free to listen to "Broken Justice" if you haven’t had a chance, and if you would like to support and participate in the next chapter forward for me, feel free to follow this link and share as much as possible: https://linktr.ee/IAR

Sean: In closing: Until we reform indigent defense systems, this story will play out over and over again. There are lots of ways to get involved, and lots of good people trying to change the system. Find out who is doing the work in your community, and support them. Sister Helen Prejean says if all you can do is bake a pie, bake a pie and bring it to a meeting! I'm happy to say Ricky's team was kept well-fed by people who care.

Comments: 2405 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

Shhh-ItWasntMe4131 karma

Do you hold any hatred/resentment toward the public defender that was unable to help you? Or have you put all that behind you?

NewsHour7365 karma

Ricky: Good question. At first, I did - many years ago I did, then I didn’t, and now I do again. It’s complicated!

NotMonicaLewinsky953239 karma

Have you been compensated by the state for wrongful imprisonment?

NewsHour5036 karma

Sean: Ricky has not been compensated; he has a team of lawyers working on that. Barry Scheck has taken his case, so stay tuned!

leesynicole1174 karma

What is a realistic expectation of what compensation is possible for Ricky?

NewsHour2974 karma

Sean: What is realistic to expect for compensation? That's hard to answer. For most of my clients, the answer is $0 because of the doctrine of governmental immunity. Clients either get nothing, or they get millions. Most get nothing.

PickUpThatLitter2835 karma

Congrats on winning your freedom back! I was wondering what was the first meal you had after release? I think I would have gobbled down the biggest steak I could find.

NewsHour5328 karma

Ricky: I did gobble down a steak, filet mignon. French fries and a cold beer.

forrealthistime992083 karma

Did you tell the other inmates you were innocent? Did they believe you?

When I was a kid I lost recess for writing on someone's desk, and I didn't do it. I still think about that 25 years later. Sooo I can't even begin to imagine your frustration. I'm glad to hear you're free

NewsHour2353 karma

Ricky: Another perfect AMA question! I always challenge people to imagine being accused of doing something they actually didn’t do, no matter how small it is. You get it. And I certainly did tell everybody I was innocent, anybody with ears who would listen. A vast majority did not believe me but the man on this session with me, Professor Sean O’Brien, did. The honorable Judge Daren Adkins did as well, which has landed me on this stage with you.

birdmommy1269 karma

If someone finds themselves facing court with a public defender, do you think there’s anything they can do to assist in their own defence?

NewsHour2189 karma

Sean: In Ricky's case, he made a good record by writing letters to his lawyer asking her to investigate his alibi and do other things for his defense. These letters were very important later.

bestCallEver1166 karma

Congratulations on your release and I'm sorry you had to go through that unimaginable experience.

Hopefully you're ok with a personal question... Based on the timeline, it sounds like you got together with your now wife immediately after getting released, so how did you two meet? Or had the relationship already started to form while you were incarcerated?

Congratulations again on the freedom and I wish you and your new family all the happiness in the world!

NewsHour1534 karma

Ricky: This is a perfect AMA question, ask me anything! I actually met my wife in January of this year and the magic was there but initially ignored. We were working together for a period of time until the magic could no longer be ignored. After that, the rest was history. We got in a NASCAR and raced around the track!

triddy61019 karma

Can you tell us more about what discovery lead to your release and why it wasn't presented in the original trial?

NewsHour2722 karma

Sean: It was an accumulation of facts. Surprisingly, a confession by the real killer was not enough. An admission by the only eyewitness that he lied when he identified Ricky was not enough. It was finally the evidence of a deposition taken by Ricky's co-defendant of the real killers--the co-defendant's alibi witnesses--that had been hidden from Ricky's trial attorney. That evidence gave us a valid legal claim. Innocence by itself is not enough, believe it or not.

Rannasha989 karma

What technological of societal development was the biggest surprise to you after getting out?

jimmyjames1992700 karma

I'm guessing it was the remote controlled vibrator

NewsHour1463 karma

Ricky: Not for me! But you can add airpods

Educator_Wise966 karma

What is the biggest misconception about prison?

NewsHour2380 karma

Sean: That it rehabilitates.

Ricky: That’s easy! The biggest misconception is that most of society believes that everybody is guilty, when that simply is not the case by far. Another misconception is that everybody is ruthless and violent, and that is also not the case.

LeftGhostCrow579 karma

I would never even try to imagine what you have been though, but I'm glad things have turned around, and congratulations on the Child!

My question is, once you were proven innocent, did you face any hardships trying to get that record expunged? Especially on a personal level, were there still people from your life who still thought you were guilty, and what complications came with dealing with that? are they going to reopen the case of the two murdered people?

Thank you for taking the time

NewsHour813 karma

Ricky: As for the challenges of getting the record expunged, it took about nine months for that actually happen. And my lawyers had to push the issue. So yes, I guess you could say it was frustrating.

I never faced people thinking that I was still guilty at least not in my case. I thought I would but it didn’t happen.

I’m not sure if they’ll reopen the case. It’s been almost 25 years and probably would be difficult to pursue charges.

Sean: When you convict an innocent person the evidence gets distorted. By prosecuting an innocent person, it distorts the evidence that makes it difficult to pursue the real killer.

ItsJustAFormality454 karma

What’s the thing you’re most looking forward to about becoming a parent? (I am so happy you are free to live your life!!!)

NewsHour989 karma

Ricky: The one thing I look forward to the most is being present after so many years of being absent. It is so important to have the experience of being present. I’ve been to every doctor’s appointment, I’ve watched probably about 40 baby videos, and I’m already practicing my ga-ga, goo-goo.

thebawbag453 karma

What an absolute nightmare. Did you learn any new skills (good or bad) whilst you were inside?

NewsHour1240 karma

Ricky: A nightmare indeed. As for the new skills that I learned: patience would be at the top of that list. But I also learned basic computer skills. I also learned office skills in the job that I was placed in. I became a certified dog trainer. Aside from any job assignment, I also read over a thousand books over the course of those 23 years that have helped me adjust better than some of my other exoneree friends.

NewsHour387 karma

Ricky and Sean here! Excited to be back and to take your questions

Croccon350 karma

Sean, I’m assuming you hear a lot of incarcerated people tell you they’re innocent and to get them out...what inspired you about Ricky’s story?

NewsHour873 karma

Sean: Ricky's case was brought to me by an investigator I know and trust, Dan Grothaus, and when I looked into his case I realized that every single public defender to touch his case screwed up something fundamental and important. In the 1980s, I was in charge of the office that later defended Ricky, and it made me sad to see how far down the standard of performance had sunk, so I felt a responsibility to Ricky. Something needed to be done, and nobody else was stepping up to the plate.

MoffieHanson335 karma

Did you ever gave up on life when you realized that you maybe was gonna die in prison or did you always kept hope even after a decade and more behind bars?

NewsHour621 karma

Ricky: A mix of both. Out front and publicly, I kept a strong face. But at times, throughout the 23 years, I certainly was ready to give up and call it quits. I honestly believe in the fact that because my legal team did not give up on me, it made me ultimately not give up on myself.

NCtwin203 karma

Hello Ricky! First thing, congratulations on getting out and accomplishing all that you have thus far. I have a son who has a birthday in December, so you're daughter is in great company. 😁

One question I have is about your return "to society". What was the the most surprising to you in terms of how much the world has changed since you went in? I can't imagine the almost culture shock of it all...

Is there anything you miss about being inside?

Has your faith in the justice system changed since getting out, and in what way? I have been wrongly accused for something before, and I feel like if I didn't have a million witnesses to help back me up, then I could have been inside just like you. The cops just heard "6 foot tall black male" and scooped the first one they saw.

Thank you for your time talking to us.

NewsHour472 karma

Ricky: Hands down, the technology. It took a minute to wrap my head around. The fact that a cell phone was basically a computer was mind-boggling. The fact that nobody was looking at each other but instead looking at their phones when I went out was surprising. Haha. Took me a minute to catch up but I’m just starting to get the hang of it. Anything I miss? Absolutely not.

KingAdamXVII182 karma

Thanks for everything you’re doing to make our country a better place.

What are some high yield solutions that we can implement to help fix the public defender system? What specifically should we tell our representatives to do?

NewsHour274 karma

Sean: The most promising solution is to implement a commitment to parity of funding and resources between indigent defense and prosecution. That was done in the federal system in 1989, and you don't hear about these problems in that system. There are lots of other solutions that need to be implemented, such as reforming line-up and interrogation procedures in ways that reduce the likelihood of generating false evidence without diminishing the likelihood of obtaining reliable evidence.

HuckleCat100K155 karma

Mr. Kidd, congratulations on your success and I am glad justice finally prevailed. Good luck to you on your new life.

Mr. O’Brien, as head of the KC public defender, can you elaborate a little bit on what failures of the system contributed to this error? I am sure it was discussed in the podcast, but for the purposes of this AMA, it would be helpful to know a little bit more.

I used to work in the superior court system in Seattle, and I knew many of the attorneys who worked in the three public defender agencies. They were extremely dedicated, qualified, and caring of their clients. I hate to hear people disparage public defenders, although I know that it’s often the case in some jurisdictions where private attorneys with little to no criminal experience get assigned PD work on a contract basis. Was Mr. Kidd’s trial lawyer a case of the former or the latter?

NewsHour394 karma

Sean: Ricky's lawyer was an assistant public defender three years out of law school and was lead counsel in Ricky's defense. She was too inexperienced to have a man's life in her hands, but she didn't know enough to know that she didn't know how to do her job, and her caseload was too high to get on top of Ricky's alibi early on. The longer you wait to put an alibi defense together, the weaker it is. The trial was 13 months after the crime, and two of Ricky's alibi witnesses were contacted for the first time the week before trial. The prosecutor attacked them for being unable to reliably what happened at a particular time or day a year earlier. How can you be sure today it was February 6, and not the 5th or the 7th? The prosecution was essentially alibi proof. This is a good example of systemic incompetence: the turnover is so high, the experience level so low, that no one is left who knows how to practice law.

yonderthrown1134 karma

Do you think your time in prison has changed your personality? Do you feel like a totally different person now?

NewsHour265 karma

Ricky: Yes, yes and yes. Prison did change my personality. I took life for granted in my youth. Being wrongfully convicted caused me to sober up real quickly. Today I appreciate not just the big things in life but the little things as well, and always encourage others to do as well without having to lose their freedom.

lyfeforce126 karma

What do you think is the biggest misconception about someone returning to the world after such large time away?

NewsHour299 karma

Ricky: I’m not sure what the biggest misconception is, but I can tell you what the biggest hurdle is: returning to the world after such a long time away.

Sean: Boy, there are so many hurdles. Everybody wants to pick up right where they left off, and so many years have passed that that is virtually impossible to do. And so I have clients who look back and all they can see is what they lost. And I have clients who look forward and marvel at the everyday life around them, the beautiful things in their future. And I don't know how to help someone be someone who looks forward. That’s the hardest part. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch Ricky hit the ground running, but I have other clients who struggle every day.

There’s also a difference in exonerees based on their experience inside prison, and the people who have the hardest time adjusting are those who were on death row. I have one who came within minutes of execution and was exposed to the danger of execution constantly in his last 18 months in prison before we were able to free him, and he is literally disabled by his post-trauma stress disorder. And so that’s hard. Ricky has taken Joe Amrine out to get groceries. I pay for his cell phone so he can at least have that bc he lives on the back porch of his sister’s house, and if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers he’d have a hard, hard time even surviving.

Corey1845106 karma

What was the first thing you did after the time? What turned out to be very difficult after two decades in jail?

NewsHour339 karma

Ricky: One of the first things I did was take a bath. In prison, there’s only showers. What turned out very difficult for me after two decades in prison was relationships. I was used to being away from my family and I was happy to be back around my family. But I wasn’t as responsive as they would have hoped or as I would have thought. Sometimes it just felt like I was still in jail when we were apart. I still struggle with this today.

sushirolls99 karma

What reforms would you prioritize to improve our criminal justice system?

NewsHour334 karma

Sean: First, level the playing field by funding public defender offices at the same level as prosecutors. Until we have a fair balance of resources between prosecution and defense, no other reform will be effective.

Zarvon87 karma

Beyond just the public defender crisis, how do you feel about the emphasis on prosecutorial power? How would you like to see that aspect of the system change?

Also, congrats on the release! I wish you the absolute best!

NewsHour322 karma

Sean: I like the system in the UK where both sides are represented by appointed counsel; an attorney can be appointed to prosecute one case while defending another case. It keeps ideologues at bay. Our problem is that the office of prosecuting attorney is a stepping stone to higher office at the expense of defendants.

Chzxn42066 karma

Any plans for Christmas for you two?

NewsHour361 karma

Ricky: Yep. Quarantine. I can’t believe I went from canteen in prison to quarantine!

iamnotkryp962 karma

Have you ever thought about taking revenge on the person who have accused you while in jail?

NewsHour172 karma

Ricky: The answer to that is no. I never thought of revenge. Dislike, yes. Revenge, no. And then the fact that he ultimately did the right thing and told the truth, and apologized in open court, have given me some comfort and closure.

Sean: It had to be hard for Ricky when we put one of the real killers on the witness stand to confess under oath, implicating his co-actors, only to have the judge say that was not enough to obtain release.

Schwerlin55 karma

Are there any new hobbies you're excited to pursue? Or would you rather take this time to simply relax?

NewsHour115 karma

Ricky: I wouldn’t say there are any new hobbies that take up my time. Jumping in the ring to help fight for others has consumed a lot of my time. With marriage and baby, I’m just now beginning to relax.

NewsHour54 karma

Ricky: I’m happy that we had this time! It is always fun to be with the PBS NewsHour team, along with the one individual who first believed in me, who ultimately never left my side until I came home. A fun and exciting year it has been and looking forward to the next chapter with I Am Resilience/new baby/marriage/purposed living. Feel free to listen to "Broken Justice" if you haven’t had a chance, and if you would like to support and participate in the next chapter forward for me, feel free to follow this link and share as much as possible: https://linktr.ee/IAR

Sean: In closing: Until we reform indigent defense systems, this story will play out over and over again. There are lots of ways to get involved, and lots of good people trying to change the system. Find out who is doing the work in your community, and support them. Sister Helen Prejean says if all you can do is bake a pie, bake a pie and bring it to a meeting! I'm happy to say Ricky's team was kept well-fed by people who care.

dirtrider1951 karma

Ricky: Were you actively working to overturn your case while you were incarcerated? If so, what were you able to do?

Sean: How do you decide which cases are worth going after?

NewsHour116 karma

Ricky: I was actively working to help overturn my case. I worked closely with Sean and the rest of the team. I would read over voluminous transcripts and documents with a slower eye, which they couldn't’ afford to do at times, and then share anything relevant that popped up. I would research case laws and stay abreast of new court rulings just in case the legal team may not have laid eyes on it yet. And finally, I would participate in the strategy sessions that were necessary to navigate an innocent person out of prison.

Sean: I decide based on the evidence what cases to get into. I mentioned earlier that there are "red flags" that I look for. For example, there are particular prosecutors who have a reputation for cheating to win, and there are certain defense lawyers who are known for their incompetence. There are also certain types of evidence that are notoriously unreliable. Eyewitness identification is the least reliable, followed by jailhouse informants, junk science (hair and fiber microscopy, bite mark evidence, etc.), and, believe it or not, confessions. The Reid method of interrogation that is commonly used by police is notorious for producing false confessions.

Matelot6750 karma

I am so glad you are married and moving on with your life. Your daughter will have a very strong and loving father.

Your experiences seem to have furnished you with a special mission. As you continue to work with Sean, Cindy and the remaining members of UMKC, who in particular are the current cases of wrongly convicted men and women in the US that need more publicity, and just how many of them were young black males when convicted? I sadly suspect it will be a vast majority.

NewsHour117 karma

Ricky: Thank you for the compliment. My daughter will indeed have a strong and loving set of parents. Her mother, Dawn, is just as strong and loving as well. As far as the population of wrongly convicted individuals, I think innocent women are being overlooked. But yes, young black males certainly leads in the area of wrongful conviction. 54 percent of wrongful convictions in America are African-Americans (according to the National Registry of Exonerations).

Sean: The case to look at is Lamar Johnson: The prosecutor wants to set him free, but the Missouri Attorney General is fighting her power to do so in a fight that has nothing to do with innocence, just who has the right to set him free. We are waiting for the Missouri Supreme Court to decide if innocence is a good enough reason to set a prisoner free.

BanCircumventionAcc29 karma

Does having even a wrongful conviction affect your chances of getting a career?

NewsHour64 karma

Sean: Yes, a wrongful conviction makes it very difficult to get a job. Sometimes it's the skepticism about their innocence, but it's always the fact that there is a decades-long gap in their resume.

69hughjazz6929 karma

Sean, I admire your efforts and passion to provide help for those wrongly convicted. But I’m also curious as to how you determine who has been wrongly convicted and sentenced as there are some truly terrible people in prison as well. Do you ever worry you may be helping one of these true criminals because they are such good liars?

Also congrats Ricky!

NewsHour83 karma

Sean: The only way to tell the innocent from the guilty is through investigation. You can't tell by talking to someone whether he is guilty or innocent. Read Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Talking to Strangers. I get into cases based on evidence; I look for "red flags." For example, Ricky's case was brought to me by Dan Grothaus, an investigator I know and trust, and the prosecutor on the case was known for misconduct, and the defender office was known for being overloaded and ineffective, so it was an easy call. I don't worry that I'll free a guilty person because it is way harder than it should be to free the innocent ones.

SummaTyme27 karma

Sean: What would you say to others out there who are facing or may face similar situations where their public defender is lacking and they cannot afford an attorney?

NewsHour53 karma

Sean: One thing I don't recommend: trying to go pro se. It's better to write letters to document what is happening. It's important to have people on the outside, like Ricky's family and loved ones, constantly prodding lawyers to do the right thing. There are a lot of non-profit law firms and pro bono lawyers you can write to. The Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School, Centurion Ministries in New Jersey, Miracle of Innocence in Kansas City are just a few. Write, write, write for help.

slackmaster26 karma

How did you feel about having this, one of the worst years in recent history, as your first free year?

NewsHour80 karma

Ricky: I feel grateful to have the space to breathe and steer clear of Covid-19, as opposed to being trapped in a hole and having no choice but to consume fumes. Could it have been a better year for me? Of course. But honestly, I think about the type of bad year many others have had due to losing their loved ones to Covid.