A Tennessee man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 31 years has been awarded $1 million by the state.
In 1978, Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 115 years in jail on rape and burglary charges. He was cleared of those charges in 2008 and was released from jail in 2009. At the time, the Tennessee Department of Corrections gave him $75 to start over.
“It’s been a long road for Lawrence,” said his attorney, Jack Lowery.
The governor recently exonerated him
Since his release, McKinney’s been on a mission to clear his name. Before he could get the $1 million payout – the maximum allowed under Tennessee law – he needed a formal exoneration from the governor’s office. But it wasn’t easy.
In 2016, the Tennessee Board of Parole unanimously decided not to recommend that McKinney receive clemency.
“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,” Melissa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the board, told CNN at the time.
Fortunately for McKinney, 62, and his lawyers, the final call rested with Gov. Bill Haslam. And last December, five days before Christmas, Haslam went against the recommendation of the parole board and exonerated McKinney, Lowery said.
On Wednesday, the Tennessee Board of Claims voted 7-0 to give McKinney the maximum $1 million payment. Members of the board said they wished they could give McKinney more.
The $1 million will be split into an initial sum of $353,000, said Lowery, which will mostly go toward legal fees and a car for McKinney. The remaining $647,000 will be divvied up in monthly payments of $3,300.
Lowery said the payment is guaranteed for a minimum of 10 years, and if McKinney dies, his wife – who was his pen pal while in jail – will continue to receive the monthly annuity.
McKinney says he’s happy to have the money. “In my age, it helps me so I won’t have to work so hard,” he told CNN on Friday. “In prison I had to work so hard for nothing.”
“My blessings and praise go out to God,” he added. “And number two, my pastor. He’s always been there for me and my church has always been behind me. But my wife has really been right hand. She has always been there for me.”
A ‘humble man’
John Hunn, McKinney’s pastor, and his church have spent years working with McKinney to clear his name.
“He’s so used to injustice,” Hunn said, “that I think he’s really trying to get his head around what justice looks like.”
McKinney is a “humble man” who cares more about the time he has left in life than the amount of money to his name, Hunn told CNN.
“He hasn’t shown as much interest in the money part of it,” he said. “He wanted his name cleared, and the amazing thing, he wasn’t angry at anybody.”
McKinney said he doesn’t hold any grudges about the years he was in jail. God, he said, took all of the anger out of his heart.
“If people paid attention to the situation that I went through, they’d see it’s just a blessing,” he said.
Hunn said he was glad McKinney’s story could positively impact so many people, and “put a smile on peoples’ faces.”