LEBANON, Tenn. - Lawrence McKinney spent half his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. DNA evidence cleared McKinney, but the state still hasn't exonerated him.
"Thirty-one years, nine months, 18 days and 12 hours," is the time McKinney said he spent behind bars.
In 1977, McKinney was sentenced to life in prison for rape, but three years ago science cleared him and he was released.
"The DNA evidence was conclusive. A mistake was made and an injustice occurred," said David Raybin, one of McKinney's attorneys. Raybin figured McKinney would easily qualify for state compensation, that is monies for those wrongly imprisoned.
"It's up to a million dollars," said Jack Lowery, McKinney's other attorney.
To pursue that claim the Governor must exonerate McKinney, but in a move Lowery and Raybin find difficult to figure out the state Board of Probation and Parole did not recommend clearing McKinney's name.
"I think it's terrible," said McKinney's wife Dorothy.
She said her husband goes to church and volunteers, but has trouble finding a job. She can't understand why he's still paying for a crime he didn't commit.
"I get a little upset about it," said Dorothy McKinney.
Raybin said the answer to why the state won't exonerate McKinney is likely linked to his one parole hearing before DNA cleared him. At that hearing, McKinney admitted to a crime he didn't commit.
"I told them anything they wanted to hear," said McKinney, who was desperate for release to see his ailing mother.
"The consensus in prison is if you admit your crime they will let you out. If you deny your crime for sure they won't. So, he said 'Yeah, I did it.' And they used that as justification not to exonerate," said Raybin.
A statement from the Board of Probation and Parole said members voted unanimously not to recommend exoneration based on file documents, victim's statements and other evidence. They still forwarded the file to then-Governor Bredesen, who they said chose not to act on the McKinney case.
Raybin said the district attorney and a judge both agreed and signed off on McKinney's unconditional release. They said he is innocent based on DNA evidence, but the state still has not exonerated him. Without that, Raybin said McKinney can't apply for compensation from the state for being wrongly imprisoned for more than half his life.
The state said McKinney could try again for exoneration with the current governor Bill Haslam.