Illustration for article titled Innocent Man Awarded $1 Million After Spending 31 Years in Prison for Crime He Didn’t Commit
Screenshot: WTVF-TV via HuffPost

Lawrence McKinney, 61, was given $1 million in compensation Wednesday after DNA evidence cleared him of a wrongful 1978 conviction for rape and burglary. He spent nearly 32 years in prison before being freed in 2009, according to HuffPost.

Nashville, Tenn., attorney David Raybin, who has represented McKinney for six years, called the compensation “bittersweet.”

“I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for 40 years; this is probably one of the most moving events I’ve ever experienced,” he told HuffPost. “To have someone in prison that long and to fight for years, for six years, to get him some justice, it has just been an enormous undertaking.”

He will get a $350,000 payment up front to cover debts, lawyers fees and cash for a car. McKinney will also get $3,500 payments for at least 10 years. His wife or his estate will get the monthly payments if he dies within that 10-year period.

Raybin said that a cap of $1 million compensation was set 10 years ago.

After he was released in 2009, McKinney had to fight for exoneration and compensation for the time he spent in prison.


Here is more background on McKinney’s case:

The parole board twice refused to formally exonerate him, even though the Shelby County Criminal Court and district attorney general found that DNA evidence failed to link McKinney to the crime he was convicted of. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) also declined to clear his name when given the chance, Raybin said.

It wasn’t until December 2017 that current Gov. Bill Haslam (R) completed the task for McKinney, an act that then made him eligible to seek compensation from the state.

“In the eyes of the judicial system, Mr. McKinney is innocent,” Haslam said in a statement at the time. “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 shared McKinney’s gratitude to the board and the governor.

“He was obviously very moved by all of this,” Raybin said of McKinney’s reactions, saying he expected the exoneration would come sooner or later. “He has infinite patience, and he is also a very religious person and has extreme faith in God.”

As for that $1 million maximum, Raybin said some of the board members told him that they will revisit the cap next year.


According to the Innocence Project, 18 states do not have laws that compensate people who were locked up for crimes they did not commit.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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