A Tennessee man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 31 years after being falsely convicted has finally been awarded $1 million by the state.
Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 115 years in jail on rape and burglary charges in 1978. In 2008, however, DNA testing of the victim’s bedsheets revealed that none of the sets of DNA matched McKinney’s profile. He was cleared and released from jail the following July, and given only $75 by the Tennessee Justice System.
After McKinney was released, he started a legal campaign to get a formal exoneration from the governor’s office, with the help of a church group he began attending after his release. In 2016, the Tennessee Board of Parole decided not to issue a recommendation for clemency. Board spokesperson Melissa McDonald told CNN, “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.” They were unconvinced by the validity of the DNA evidence and cited the fact that McKinney admitted to the burglary charge after 28 years in prison. McKinney said that he “admitted” to the charges because his lawyers at the time had told him it was the only way to be released early.
Despite the parole board’s objections, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam formally exonerated McKinney on December 20th. The exoneration opened the door for McKinney to receive a higher payout from the state for his unjust imprisonment. On March 21st, the Tennessee Board of Claims voted unanimously to give McKinney a $1 million payout, the highest possible amount they could award him. “We thank the governor, and we thank the board,” McKinney’s lawyer David Raybin (below, left) said in a press conference after the verdict, according to The Independent. “Highest amount ever paid, but then again, no one was ever incarcerated for this long.”
McKinney will receive an initial lump sum of $353,000, which will mostly go towards paying his legal fees, and a monthly payment of $3,300 for at least 10 years. McKinney is happy to have received the payout. He told CNN after the verdict: “In my age, it helps me so I won’t have to work so hard. In prison, I had to work so hard for nothing.” But attorney Jack Lowrey (above, right) also told CNN: “He hasn’t shown as much interest in the money part of it,” he said. “He wanted his name cleared, and the amazing thing, he wasn’t angry at anybody.”
Since his release, McKinney has built a community for himself. In 2010, he married a woman he had corresponded with while he was in jail, and they’re both highly involved in the church community at Immanuel Baptist Church. McKinney is extremely grateful for the support that he has received from those around him. “My blessings and praise go out to God,” he added. “And number two, my pastor. He’s always been there for me and my church has always been behind me. But my wife has really been the right hand. She has always been there for me.”
With the support of his community, McKinney is attempting to find peace and meaning in his long incarceration. “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 told CNN. “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.”
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