A Tennessee man who spent 31 years in prison after being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit has been compensated a total of $75.
Lawrence McKinney was 22 when, in 1978, he was wrongfully convicted of raping his neighbor. He was sentenced to 115 years in prison.
“I still could not believe it because I thought it was a dream or something,” McKinney told CBS News.
It wasn’t until 2008 that a DNA test reversed McKinney’s conviction. He was released the following year and given a check for $75 by the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
“Because I had no ID it took me three months before I was able to cash [the check],” McKinney told CNN.
McKinney is now petitioning Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to grant him an official exoneration. If he were to get it, he would be eligible for $1 million in compensation from the state Board of Claims.
At a hearing in September, the Tennessee Board of Parole denied McKinney’s request.
“The board reviewed all relevant information related to the crime, conviction and subsequent appeals, as well as all information provided by the petitioner,” Board of Parole spokesperson Melissa McDonald said. “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.”
Factoring into the board’s ruling were 97 infractions McKinney reportedly committed while in prison. For example, McKinney allegedly assaulted one of his fellow inmates, something his pastor, John Hunn, says is forgivable.
“Lawrence has told that story at our church,” Hunn told CNN. “He doesn’t deny that story. He was in prison, man.”
Jack Lowery, one of McKinney’s attorney’s, said the board is unqualified to make decisions regarding McKinney’s exoneration, and that it is ultimately up to the governor.
“The parole board is not qualified to make these decisions and should not,” Lowery said. “For the parole board to step in when many [of them] are not trained in the law is ridiculous.”
McKinney has turned is life around since being released. In 2010 he was married to a pen pal he communicated with while he was incarcerated. He attends Bible study five nights a week and is now part of a community that wholeheartedly supports him.
“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.”
Tennessee’s governors have exonerated two people over the last 16 years. Both of those came in January 2011.
Sources: CBS News, CNN / Photo credit: CBS News