State awards McKinney $1 million for wrongful imprisonment

Jared Felkins • Mar 21, 2018 at 12:11 PM

Lawrence McKinney has traveled a road that took him from more than 30 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit to release, his record cleared and a governor’s exoneration.

On Wednesday, McKinney ended his nearly four-decades-long journey by becoming a millionaire.

The Tennessee Board of Claims awarded McKinney the full amount of wrongful-imprisonment compensation allowed by state law following a hearing Wednesday morning. The board also determined McKinney would receive the $1 million through monthly payments, the first of which he is expected to get next week.

The award includes:

• an initial payment of $353,000 to pay McKinney's attorneys fees, debts and allow him to buy a vehicle.

• $647,000 in a monthly annuity that will pay McKinney $3,350 per month for life starting May 1. The monthly payment is guaranteed for 10 years; if McKinney dies within that time, the balance of the money will be paid to his wife or his estate if she also does not survive.

McKinney didn’t attend the hearing Wednesday.

Shelli King, Tennessee treasury communications director, said McKinney had up to a year to file a claim with the board, which consists of five state officials. She said the board considered facts of the claim, as well as physical and mental suffering and potential loss of earnings.

The board had the option to pay McKinney the full $1 million in one lump sum. King said factors the board would consider included special need for the lump sum, McKinney’s ability to manage the lump sum payment and his safety.

McKinney’s attorney David Raybin said they planned to seek the lump-sum payment based on McKinney’s age.

Gov. Bill Haslam met with Lawrence McKinney last month, less than two months after he granted McKinney’s exoneration for a crime he didn’t commit nearly 40 years ago.

Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, arranged the meeting between Haslam, McKinney and his wife, Dorothy, and Immanuel Baptist Church Pastor John Hunn.

“It’s a great day,” Hunn said. “It’s a long way for justice, 40 years.”

Haslam’s grant of executive clemency for McKinney, of Lebanon, came in December after the state Board of Parole ruled it would not recommend exoneration following a hearing in September 2016. McKinney is currently eligible to apply for wrongful-imprisonment compensation from the state of up to $1 million.

“Today, I granted Lawrence McKinney’s request for gubernatorial exoneration from his 1978 convictions,” Haslam said in December in a statement. “Though the facts of this case are complex, and reasonable minds may draw different conclusions from them, ultimately I respect the determinations of the Shelby County Criminal Court and district attorney general that Mr. McKinney was not guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted and would not have been prosecuted if the DNA testing results had been available at the time of trial. Mr. McKinney was released after more than 30 years in prison when the court set aside his convictions in 2009.

“In the eyes of the judicial system, Mr. McKinney is innocent. While I appreciate the hard work and recommendations of the Board of Parole, in this case I defer to the finding of the court charged with determining Mr. McKinney’s guilt or innocence.”

Raybin and attorney Jack Lowery represented McKinney and spoke about his exoneration in December.

“It was very emotional. It was nine years of effort, nine years of war to stand behind this man and it was the right thing,” Raybin said. “You asked, ‘why did the governor go against the parole board?’ Because it was the right thing to do, and he was relying on evidence.”

Lowery said 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 last month the board didn’t have a specific timeframe to make a judgment.

“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.

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.

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