Gov. Bill Haslam signed an executive order Wednesday morning 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.
“I have handled the other case in Tennessee about six years ago like this and they awarded the person who had been incarcerated, I think two or three years, several hundred thousand dollars. He’s been in prison for 30 years, so we more than have met the cap on this case,” Raybin said.
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.
“I serve the Lord, and he knows the things I need and he makes sure the right people walk in my life and be by my side,” said McKinney, who said his focus is on spreading the word of Christ and not the money.
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.
The then-Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole recommended against exoneration when it conducted a clemency hearing for McKinney in 2010. In 2014, a Shelby County judge expunged McKinney’s record, but he remained without exoneration.
McKinney was allowed to reapply under Haslam’s administration.
Jennifer Donnals, Haslam’s press secretary, confirmed Haslam received McKinney’s exoneration report in November 2016, and Haslam issued his executive order Wednesday to exonerate McKinney, more than a year later.