In 1978, 64-year-old Lawrence McKinney was convicted and sentenced to prison for 115 years after being accused of raping a woman and stealing a television set.

However, a continuous investigation revealed that he had been falsely accused as DNA evidence ruled him out as a suspect.

Lawrence had spent over three decades in prison on a count of false interrogation before he was released in 2009.

While he was released almost immediately after the evidence was confirmed to be real, seeing the state officials issue him $75 after wasting over 30 years of his life was quite shocking.

Aside from being a free man, nothing changes the fact that Lawrence had nothing to fall back on.

In an interview with CBS News, he said:

“I don’t have any life. All my life was taken away.”

His lawyer, Jack Lowery, also added that it is wrong for Tennessee authorities to compensate his client with such a ridiculous amount despite the injustice.

In another interview with WZTV, Lawrence stated, “All my 20s and all my 30s and 40s, they were taken away from me.

I didn’t have a chance to build something for myself.”

Road To Exoneration

Ever since his release, Lawrence had begun seeking a full exoneration so that he could apply for compensation of up to $1M.

One of his lawyers, David Raybin, believes that McKinney deserves more than he is asking for.

He said:

“A person is deprived of their life and freedom. In my view, Mr. McKinney is entitled so far more than $1M based on what’s happened to him.”

Despite having the evidence required for a full pardon, the Parole board unanimously turned them down and claimed to have no trust in DNA.

Since his appeal, that was the second time the parole board members would vote unanimously to deny his exoneration case.

“It is not justice for him not to receive compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned.

Yet, the board isn’t convinced about McKinney’s innocence; Even the board’s newest member, Patsy Bruce.” Lowery said after receiving the news of the rejection of the full exoneration.

Since the state cannot give Lawrence his lost years, he believes that they should be able to pay as much money as he deserves.

“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.” Melissa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the board, told CNN.

While all hope seemed to be lost at that point, luck smiled on McKinney when he found out that the Republican Tennessee Governor, asides the parole members is another person that can hear his exoneration case and grant him clemency.

His team took advantage of this and kept pushing his case to the Governor’s (Bill Haslam) table. And finally, in November, the Governor received McKinney’s executive clemency application.



Not only would the exoneration give him an amount that would cover up for a part of the lost years, but it will also give him a clean slate and put him in a good position as he was already learning to become a preacher at the Immanuel Baptists Church.

In an interview with The Tennessean, he said:

“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 lose all my 20s, 30s, and 40s, but I am a servant of the Lord and any blessing I get, I want for my wife.”

Fortunately for McKinney, the Governor’s office began to review his application almost immediately.

While the process is usually transparent, McKinney’s fate lied in three options:

  1. The Governor agreeing with the board’s recommendation.
  2. The Governor disagreeing with the board’s recommendation
  3. The Governor abstaining entirely from the board’s recommendation.

After several investigations, the Governor went against the recommendation of the parole board and exonerated McKinney in December 2017.

Attorney David Raybin revealed in an interview that “It was very emotional. It was nine years of effort, nine years of determination to stand behind this man.

You asked the question, why did the Governor go against the parole board? Because it was the right thing to do.” He said.

How Does The Compensation Work?

“When I was in there, I was saying to myself, “one day, they are going to have to let me out.” My mum always told me before she died, “don’t worry about it, God is going to take care of you, and he knows you are not supposed to be in here.” McKinney recounts after he heard the news of his exoneration.

McKinney’s legal team took a step further; they filed a hearing with the Tennessee Board of Claims.

After the hearing, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators released a statement which reads, in part:

“Mr. McKinney will never be able to regain the years of his life that he lost due to wrongful prosecution, but exoneration is a step in the right direction. The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators will continue to fight for justice, fairness, and smart criminal justice reform across Tennessee.”

The Tennessee Board of Claims voted 7-0 to pay McKinney $1M.

Attorney Lowery stated that the money would be split. $353,000 would go into sorting McKinney’s legal fees, debts and getting him a car while the remaining $647,000 would be divided into a monthly payment of $3,300.

Although the payment was guaranteed for a minimum of ten years, Lowery stated that McKinney’s wife would keep receiving the money if McKinney dies along the line.

“At my age, it helps me so I won’t have to work so hard. In prison, I had to work so hard for nothing. My blessings and praise go out to God, and secondly, my pastor.

He’s always there for me, and my church has always been behind me. My wife was there for me. She has always been there for me.” McKinney told CNN in an interview.

When asked, John Hunn, McKinney’s pastor, explained that McKinney was more interested in clearing his name than he was about the money. He said:

“He hasn’t shown as much interest in the money part of it. He wanted his name cleared, and the amazing thing was he wasn’t angry at anybody.”

McKinney did not only clear his name after spending 31 in prison; he will continue to serve as a symbol of hope to many like him who have been wrongfully accused and incarcerated.

Continue Reading

Send this to a friend