FERRIER FILES: Tennessee man granted $1 million after he was wrongly jailed for 31 years
NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
Lawrence McKinney, 61, has every reason in the world to be bitter and angry, but he always has a smile on his face instead.
His legal fight is over after it look nearly 40 years to make things right. Lawrence McKinney, from Wilson county, was released from jail when authorities discovered it was another man's DNA on a 1978 rape victim, leading to his rape and burglary conviction being overturned.
This was 2009. Lawrence had $75 and the clothes on his back, but he started making friends almost immediately because of his incredible grace.
“I have never met a Christian that had gone through that and come out the way he came out,” said Pastor John Hunn from Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon. “It's really amazing how he connects with people when he was disconnected so long."
McKinney took on four part time jobs, attended two bible studies, went to church every Wednesday and Sunday, and began visiting people in prison.
He said he took it all day-by-day, while others demanded that he be exonerated and given victim's compensation for what the state did to him.
“The thing that is impressive about this man is he is not angry at anybody," said Attorney Jack Lowery. "An amazing personality and amazing attitude about what happened to him."
It wasn't just those 31 years in prison that were taken away from him. As a convicted felon, McKinney couldn't vote and couldn't leave the country for a mission trip.
The Tennessee Parole Board denied him an exoneration in a unanimous vote.
“We did go to the parole board and put on some convincing proof,” said Attorney David Raybin. “Apparently DNA is not good enough for the parole board, but the evidence that he didn’t commit this crime was overwhelming. I think most folks would agree."
Without exoneration, Lawrence could not ask the Tennessee Board of Claims for victim's compensation. He then found a very unexpected ally in Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who began studying the case.
“Every time he saw me in the hallway, he knew I wanted to talk to him about Lawrence," Pody said. "The file was very thick, but he knew the case. He followed the case, and unlike other governors he pardoned him and exonerated him quickly."
Governor Haslam went against the parole board and exonerated Lawrence McKinney.
The claims board gave him the maximum of $1 million. This is broken up into an initial payment of $353,000 in attorney's fees and $647,000 in a monthly annuity that will pay McKinney $3,350 per life starting May 1. This payment is guaranteed for 10 years.
The bad, the good and the unbelievable were all taken in stride by a man who said he is inseparable from the peace of God.
“When you become a new Christian, when you are born again, you leave all of the anger and bitterness behind," McKinney said. "You are a new Christian, and you walk with peace because your understanding is that God will never leave you or forsake you."
Lawrence McKinney bought himself a new car. He is also planning on going on trips with his wife. He said it is time to enjoy his freedom.