Gov. Bill Haslam signed an executive order last month to exonerate McKinney, 61, who was convicted nearly 40 years ago of crimes he didn’t commit.
Haslam’s grant of executive clemency for McKinney, of Lebanon, came after the state Board of Parole ruled it would not recommend exoneration following a hearing in September 2016. McKinney will now be eligible to apply for wrongful-imprisonment compensation from the state of up to $1 million.
“The statute is mandatory that he receives compensation,” said attorney David Raybin, who represents McKinney along with attorney Jack Lowery.
Shelli King, Tennessee treasury communications director, said McKinney has up to a year to file a claim with the board, which consists of five state officials. King said the board would hold a hearing with McKinney and consider facts of the claim, as well as physical and mental suffering and potential loss of earnings.
The board will also decide if McKinney would receive his compensation in one lump sum or through monthly payments. King said factors the board would consider include special need for the lump sum, McKinney’s ability to manage the lump sum payment and his safety.
Raybin said the group would seek the lump-sum payment based on McKinney’s age.
Pody filed legislation with former Sen. Mae Beavers during the 2017 legislative session and called for automatic exoneration for someone whose conviction was overturned after spending at least 25 years in jail.
McKinney’s case was overturned by the Shelby County Criminal Court in 2009 after DNA evidenced proved his innocence.
“I am very pleased that Mr. McKinney has been exonerated and that he now has the opportunity to apply for compensation,” Pody said. “It is an answer to the prayers of many of us. The governor’s action carries out what we sought to accomplish with the legislation filed last year. It was a great injustice that Mr. McKinney could not apply for restitution after suffering wrongful imprisonment for so many years for an act he did not commit, and for which he was declared innocent by a court of law.”
Lowery said the lump sum or payments would not be subject to taxes, while Raybin said the statute hasn’t kept up with inflation.
“I think Tennessee needs to revisit that issue for someone who has been incarcerated for that long,” Raybin said.
King said the board does not have a specific timeframe to make a judgment, but he noted the hearing would be open to the public.
McKinney was released from prison in July 2009 thanks to DNA evidence after he spent 31 years of a 100-year sentence in prison for rape and first-degree burglary he didn’t commit in 1977 in Memphis.
When McKinney was released, he received a $13,556 payment from the federal government. However, citing the payment was a mistake, the government started garnishing McKinney’s wages when he worked at Lifeway Christian warehouse in Nashville. In 2014, McKinney’s record with the state was finally expunged.
“I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering that Mr. McKinney has endure. I don’t think many people can imagine losing most of their adult life behind bars for a crime they did not commit. Hopefully, the Board of Claims will act quickly to help him receive the restitution he deserves to restore his life,” Pody said.