KC Mayor Quinton Lucas: Please be open to true justice for firefighter explosion

Dear Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas,

Last Friday, I read your Facebook message praising the decision by Judge Fernando Gaitan of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri not to release my codefendant Darlene Edwards from her life sentence for the 1988 explosion that killed six Kansas City firefighters. Five people were convicted of setting the fires that caused the deadly blast, but I remain the only one who has been released early from prison.

I want to respond to your comment that “our current times shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card for those inflicting historic pain on families in our community.” I know you are a man committed to truth and justice. I know you are passionate about innocence and unjust sentencing practices. So I trust you will be open to considering the perspectives of people such as Darlene and me.

On my release day four years ago, four people greeted me — two I had thought of daily during my 20 years in prison, and two others who were a complete surprise.

The first two were my elderly mother, who had supported me throughout my life, and my daughter, now a grown woman. She knew me for most of her life only through bulletproof glass or collect call. I prayed for this day for so long: hugging my mother and my daughter without being told by a prison guard to let go.

The third and fourth people greeting me came in the form of a letter that was waiting for me. The letter was from James Kilventon, the son of one of the six firefighters who were killed in the blast, and his wife Tracey. They wrote to say that they had spent the past several years reading The Kansas City Star’s investigative reporting that had shed so much light on this miscarriage of justice. They wanted to meet me.

Two weeks later, I sat with James and Tracey in a small chapel in the heart of this great city we all call home. For the first time in these long decades, a member of the firefighter community was breaking rank. He said he had heard our story. He said that he believed me, that I am an innocent man. We sat together for an hour beneath a stained glass window of Jesus healing a deaf man. When Jesus touched the man’s ears, he said, “Be open.”

Mayor Lucas, you are in an incredible position of power, so I ask that you would also be open. I ask that you be as open as James Kilventon, who has gone public to support my lawsuit against the Department of Justice to release the names of additional suspects they have identified in this case.

Be as open as the Midwest Innocence Project (for which you serve on the board), which honored me at their annual gala three years ago as one of the “Faces of Innocence.”

Be as open as our sentencing judge who acknowledged, “No physical evidence linked any specific defendant to the scene, and there were no eyewitnesses to the offense.”

Be as open as Judge Gaitan who acknowledged, “several of the witnesses who testified against Bryan Sheppard at the trial have since recanted their testimony.”

Be as open as your mentor, U.S. Rep Emanuel Cleaver II, who was Kansas City’s mayor at the time, who to this day consistently goes on record to express his doubts over our convictions.

Be open to considering that none of us has been asking for a “get out of jail free card.” What I am asking for, alongside my codefendants and our community of supporters, is that those who truly are guilty of “inflicting historic pain on families in our community” be brought to justice, and that those who have been serving time on behalf of the true criminals be released and exonerated.

That is the only way our community can truly heal and move on from this historic pain.

Bryan Sheppard was released from prison for time served in March 2017 after serving 22 years for a 1988 arson fire that killed six Kansas City firefighters.

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