In 1978, Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 115 years in prison on rape and burglary charges — crimes he maintained he never committed.
But he would spend about 31 years in prison before his name was finally cleared. In 2008, DNA testing of the victim’s bedsheets revealed that none of the sets of DNA matched McKinney’s profile. He was released the following July and given a measly $75 by the Tennessee Justice System.
After his release, he began a long and arduous legal battle to get a formal exoneration from the governor’s office, which was complicated by the Tennessee Board of Parole’s reluctance to accept the validity of the DNA evidence. Fortunately, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam still formally exonerated McKinney on December 20th, 2016, which made it possible for McKinney to receive a higher payout from the state for his wrongful imprisonment.
On March 21st, the Tennessee Board of Claims voted unanimously to give McKinney a $1 million payout, the highest possible amount they could award him.
McKinney will receive an initial lump sum of $353,000 — most of which will go towards paying his legal fees. He’ll also receive a monthly payment of $3,300 for at least 10 years. “In my age, it helps me so I won’t have to work so hard,” he said. “In prison, I had to work so hard for nothing.”
But as attorney Jack Lowrey clarified, “He hasn’t shown as much interest in the money part of it. He wanted his name cleared, and the amazing thing, he wasn’t angry at anybody.” And since his release, he’s been able to make a new life for himself. He’s now married and very involved with the community at Immanuel Baptist Church. Most importantly, he’s happy.
“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 told CNN. “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.”