Lawrence McKinney (60) is fighting for compensation after being wrongfully incarcerated in Tennessee for 31 years. So far, the state of Tennessee has awarded him just $75. McKinney is now seeking $1 million in compensation -- the maximum allowed -- if he can convince the state parole board, which has declined his case twice already. In an interview with CBS News, McKinney said, "I don’t have no life, all my life was taken away."
It was on the basis of court testimony in 1978 that McKinney was convicted of the rape of woman in Shelby County, Tennessee. The victim identified one of the two perpetrators as Lawrence McKinney, who was 22 years old at the time. McKinney was convicted in a Shelby County court after the victim pointed him out during the proceedings. He got 100 years in prison for allegedly participating in the gang rape. The co-defendant was also convicted and imprisoned.
Attorney Jack Lowery, who is of counsel to McKinney, said that McKinney has suffered and that compensation alone will not serve the cause of justice. His client is seeking to be entirely exonerated of the crime: a decision that now rests with Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican.
In September 2016, the seven-member parole board voted unanimously to deny hearing McKinney’s case for exoneration. Since then, Gov. Haslam has received an executive clemency from McKinney. The governor’s office is currently conducting a review of the application and considering the parole recommendation, which remains confidential. Haslam can agree or disagree with the recommendation, or choose not to act. State Rep. Mark Pody, a Republican, has been an important supporter for McKinney.
If Haslam approves McKinney’s case, he will be able to finally clear his name. McKinney has applied for exoneration once before, shortly after his release in 2009. When the parole board refused to hear his case, then-Phil Bredesen did not act on the application. Since 2003, the Tennessee Board of Claims has only paid out exoneration claims two times.
Currently, McKinney plans to become a preacher. He works at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Memphis. “Being exonerated would put me on a standard with everyone else in society. I didn’t get a chance to build a career or buy a home. I lost all my 20s, 30s and 40s, but I’m a servant of the Lord and any blessing I get I just want for my wife,” he told The Tennessean.
It was in 2008 that forensic tests of the victim’s bed linen revealed a mixture of stains from three people. None were traced to McKinney. Experts found in the linen the DNA profiles of McKinney’s co-defendant and the victim. According to the Innocence Project, an advocacy group, "In August 2008, tests of biological stains from the victim’s bed linen revealed a mixture of stains from three people—none of whom was McKinney. The tests identified the DNA profiles of McKinney’s co-defendant and the victim’s profile."
A judge has vacated the original conviction, but McKinney wants to clear his name. The opinions of the district attorney and the judge who released McKinney have not yet convinced the parole board of his innocence. One member of the board, Patsy Bruce -- who has served for 12 years and was on the board for McKinney’s first request for exoneration -- says there is not yet sufficient evidence that the DNA was properly considered. She is not yet convinced of McKinney’s innocence. McKinney’s future hinges on Governor Haslam.