Man Wrongfully Imprisoned For 31 Years Awarded $75 – Now He’s Fighting For Justice
He spent 31 years in a Tennessee prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now he’s seeking justice and petitioning the state to compensate him in the amount of $1 million for the decades that have been stolen from him.
Will he receive justice for being wrongly convicted?
All he’s received so far is $75.
In October 1977, two intruders raped a Memphis woman in her home. In the aftermath, she identified her neighbor, Lawrence McKinney, as one of the intruders. McKinney was convicted of rape and burglary charges and sentenced to 115 years in jail, CNN reports.
He was in his early 20s at the time.
DNA evidence cleared him of the charges in 2008. When he was released in 2009, the Tennessee Department of Corrections gave him a $75 to begin a new life.
That might have been enough for a few groceries, but even receiving that paltry amount was a challenge for McKinney.
“Because I had no ID it took me three months before I was able to cash it,” he said.
McKinney’s lawyer, Jack Lowery, said his client has suffered long enough and added that justice won’t be served by receiving compensation alone, The Independent reports.
Even though McKinney’s record has been cleared, his attempts at being exonerated have been a bureaucratic red tape tangle.
Justice is not being served
“I don’t have no life, all my life was taken away,” he told CBS News.
Tennessee’s seven-member parole board voted unanimously in September to deny hearing his case. But the final say on this is up to Republican governor Bill Haslam.
“The (parole) board reviewed all relevant information related to the crime, conviction and subsequent appeals, as well as information provided by the petitioner,” Melissa McDonald, spokesperson for the Tennessee Board of Parole told KTLA.com. “After considering all of the evidence, the board did not find clear and convincing evidence of innocence and declined to recommend clemency in this matter.”
Pastor John Hunn, who also supports McKinney’s efforts, said the board cited 97 infractions that the former inmate incurred during his time in prison, including the alleged assault of another inmate whose testimony against McKinney was heard at the hearing. But at the hearing, McKinney told the board he’d been in prison for years, and also noted that “only the strong survive,” Hunn said. He testified on McKinney’s behalf at the hearing.
“Lawrence has told that story at our church,” Hunn told KTLA. “He doesn’t deny that story. He was in prison, man.”
And the board was also aware that some 28 years into his sentence, McKinney admitted to the burglary charge he was convicted of. His attorneys at the time told him in order to have any chance of being released early, he’d have to admit to something.
Jack Lowery, an attorney for McKinney, said the decision should rest solely with Haslam.
“The parole board is not qualified to make these decisions and should not,” he said. “For the parole board to step in when many (of them) are not trained in the law is ridiculous.”
Jennifer Donnals, Haslam’s press secretary, says the governor received an executive clemency application on November 21. She added the governor’s office is reviewing McKinney’s application with the board’s recommendation, which is confidential. Haslam can choose to agree or disagree with the board’s recommendation. He can also choose not to act, The Tennessean reports.
“The Governor’s office will conduct a thorough review of Mr. McKinney’s application and the (parole) board’s recommendation,” Donnals said.
The governor’s office hasn’t indicated when or if Haslam will make a decision on McKinney’s application.
Fortunately, State Rep. Mark Pody has been advocating on McKinney’s behalf and is working on legislation in clemency cases he intends to have ready when the Tennessee General Assembly goes into session on Jan. 10.
“A court convicted him and a court acquitted him,” Pody said. “Why should anyone else be involved?
“I have real concerns about how this is handled. I’ve asked research people to look at what states are doing it faster and better. No matter how this goes we need to take a look at this legislatively. I hope it’s one of the first bills filed.”
McKinney and his team are optimistic, but even so, he realizes this is his final opportunity to receive justice and be exonerated. It’s his second attempt, having tried in 2010. Then-Governor Phil Bredesen never acted on the board’s recommendation against exoneration before he left office. Once Haslam became governor, McKinney was given another chance to reapply.
Hunn says that since his release, McKinney has been working to rebuild his life and salvage the time he has left. In 2010 he married a pen pal whom he corresponded with while he was incarcerated and both attend a local church, where he participates in Bible study five nights a week. Here, he has found a supportive community that continually rallies around him.
“Although I’ve spent more than half of my life locked up for a crime I did not do, I am not bitter or angry at anyone, because I have found the Lord and married a good wife,” McKinney said. “All I ask is that I be treated right and fair for what has happened to me. I didn’t do nothing, and I just want to be treated right.”
After being incarcerated for so long — for a crime he didn’t commit, can anyone blame him?
In the video below, McKinney explains what he’s been going through.
Screencap courtesy of CBS Evening News/YouTube