Lawrence McKinney was just 22 years old when he was questioned by police regarding the rape and robbery of a neighbor in Memphis, Tenn. Although he was innocent, McKinney was convicted the following year in a court of law, and sentenced to 115 years in prison. McKinney could not have known how much his life was about to change.
McKinney spent 31 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. At the time of his conviction, his lawyers advised him to confess to the crime if he ever hoped to get out of prison early. This proved to be poor advice, and he is the one who suffered for it. McKinney remained strong and maintained his innocence year after year.
Finally, in 2009, DNA evidence brought to light what McKinney had been claiming all along. Upon his release, he received check for $75. McKinney could not even cash the check right away because he had no identification. The State of Tennessee received free labor for 31 years, while McKinney received $75 to start life over.
McKinney would not give up. He went before the parole board twice and was denied both times. Patsy Bruce, who served on the parole board in Tennessee for 12 years and heard McKinney’s first exoneration case stated, “In an exoneration hearing we have to have a lot of evidence, clear and convincing. I have not been convinced he is innocent. ”
This could be due in part to the poor advice McKinney received telling him to confess to the crime, as well as his own infractions he obtained while in prison. McKinney does not hide from the truth but admits he did what he had to do to stay alive. It is no secret that prison can be a dangerous place for a young person. McKinney said it is a place where “only the strong survive.”
McKinney is actively pursuing exoneration which could allow him to receive up to $1 million in compensation. His attorney, Jack Lowery states, “There has been one mistake made that sent him to prison. I trust that another is not made that does not allow him exoneration,” Lowery said.
McKinney has tried to move on as best he could after being released from prison. He had to take odd jobs here and there to earn enough money to pay the bills. He got married and is only seeking the happiness he deserves. McKinney says, “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 further stated, “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.” Respect. That is all the man is asking for. Denied twice before, McKinney’s fate now rests in the hands of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
If Haslam grants the exoneration, McKinney can finally begin to rebuild his life. It will be the break McKinney has been waiting for all these years. All he has ever wanted was to be free, truly free. Freedom for him would mean the State of Tennessee agreeing with his innocence, and finally clearing his name. The $1 million would be nice, too.
How should the State of Tennessee have handled this case? Would Patsy Bruce still feel that way if this were her brother, or her son? What can we do about lawyers who give bad advice? Let’s talk here or on Twitter: @lcarterwriter