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Tennessee Man to Receive $1Million After His Exoneration

Paying the dire consequences for a crime you committed is bad enough, how much more if you’re innocent? Spending your life in imprisonment due to mistaken identity can become one of the adversest experiences a person can have.

The subsequent fight to clear one’s name could also be equally taxing. Wrongful convictions cause injustice to the accused and delays true justice as the real culprit remains free. One Tennessee man, however, proved that his fight paid off after battling for years to secure his freedom.


Lawrence McKinney together with Bill Haslam, the governor granted exoneration to McKinney

Lawrence McKinney, now 61 years old, spent 31 years in prison when he convicted wrongfully for harassment and burglary. However, a few years after, the new DNA evidence cleared him of the crime and he was eventually released in 2009. As of December 2017, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam exonerated McKinney, overturning the Tennessee Board of Parole’s former recommendation.

The Tennessee Board of Claims awarded McKinney $1 million, the maximum amount the state allows, in compensation. This is the second time the board made such payment upon exoneration since the state crafted the legislation in 2004. McKinney and his forensic team applied twice for executive exoneration but both petitions were unsuccessful. In 2016, in his second application, the board voted unanimously against recommending exoneration with one member stating the DNA evidence was incomplete.


Gov. Haslam, however, believed that McKinney was innocent according to the judicial system. He appreciated board’s effort, but he deferred to the court’s decision on the case. As the board only makes recommendations, the governor can either deny, grant, or choose not to act upon clemency requests.  The high court stated that McKinney collected an upfront payment of $353,000 to cover lawyer’s fees, debts, and a vehicle purchase. The remaining $647,000 will be paid in monthly installments of $3,350 for the next ten years.

The Case

On June 22, 1978, McKinney received a sentence a total of 110 years imprisonment when a mauled victim accused him as her attacker. According to her testimony, she was mauled by two men in her apartment in Memphis. She identified McKinney and another named Michael Yancy in court.

The policemen arrested the two in Yancy’s apartment and both suspects claimed they spent the night drinking and watching television. The two say they never left the apartment when the crime happened. The Shelby County Criminal Court found both men guilty and sentenced the two to 100 years imprisonment for mauling and a decade for burglary.

Fighting for his Innocence

McKinney and his team submitted a new DNA evidence in 2008, approximately 30 years after his conviction. Stain samples found at the crime scene indicated that it belonged to three people, but none matched McKinney. This lead to his subsequent release in July of 2009. After his release from prison, McKinney sought executive exoneration but the Board of Parole voted against it. Then Governor Phil Bredesen also did not act upon the request.

McKinney’s legal team made another attempt in 2016 to clear his name, but it was futile. Tim Gobble, who presided over the hearing, raised McKinney’s lengthy disciplinary record during his time in jail. Gobble also questioned the new evidence which aided McKinney’s release.

Tim Gobble raised McKinney’s disciplinary record during the hearing

The Board also questioned him on his admissions to the crime made on a parole hearing after 28 years in prison. McKinney said that the admissions were only made in hopes of getting released. Gobble, however, questioned whether he was telling the truth.

The board, in the end, unanimously voted not to exonerate and submitted their recommendation to the governor’s office soon after. McKinney remained upbeat after the hearing as they considered appealing directly to the governor. The exoneration was granted to McKinney, and the state will now have to pay a just compensation equivalent to the moral and legal damages he suffered during his imprisonment.

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