In October 1977, a Memphis, Tennessee woman was raped in her home by two intruders. The woman subsequently identified one of the perpetrators as her neighbor, 22 year old Lawrence McKinney. One year later, McKinney was convicted on rape and burglary charges and sentenced to 115 years in prison.
The only problem is that he didn't do it. After spending 31 years in prison, DNA evidence cleared Mckinney of any wrongdoing in 2008 and he was later released in 2009 with a very "generous" check of $75 from the Tennessee Department of Corrections to help "restart his life." To add insult to injury, McKinney told CNN that "because I had no ID it took me three months before I was able to cash it."
Now, a 61-year-old McKinney is asking Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to exonerate him, a move that would clear a path to pursue up to $1 million in compensation from the state Board of Claims for 3 decades of wrongful imprisonment. The Tennessee Board of Parole, which makes recommendations to the governor on such issues, denied McKinney's request for exoneration by a 7-0 vote at a hearing in September saying they could not "find clear and convincing evidence of innocence."
"The (parole) board reviewed all relevant information related to the crime, conviction and subsequent appeals, as well as all information provided by the petitioner," said Melissa McDonald, spokesperson for the Tennessee Board of Parole. "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."
One of McKinney's attorneys, Jack Lowery, believes 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."
Apparently the parole board based their decision, in part, on McKinney's admission to the 1977 burglary charge, an admission his lawyer at the time told him he needed to make if he wanted any shot at an early parole.
According to John Hunn, McKinney's pastor and most ardent supporter, the board cited a list of 97 infractions that McKinney incurred while he was in jail, including the alleged assault of a fellow inmate, who testified against McKinney at the hearing. McKinney told the board he'd been in prison for years, and that "only the strong survive," Hunn said. Hunn testified at the hearing on McKinney's behalf.
"Lawrence has told that story at our church," Hunn said. "He doesn't deny that story. He was in prison, man."
The parole board also knew that 28 years into his sentence, McKinney admitted to the burglary charge he was convicted of. McKinney said his lawyers at the time told him that if he wanted any chance of being released early, he would need to admit to something.
Despite being forced to waste more than half his life behind bars, Mckinney says he's not bitter and just wants to "be treated right and fair for what has happened to me."
"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."
Perhaps the "commuter-in-chief" could take a little break from pardoning hardened drug dealers to help clear someone that seemingly actually deserves a break.