Lawmaker Says State "Dragging Its Feet" In Exonerating Wilson County Man

Posted at 3:07 PM, Jun 16, 2016

After serving 31 years for a crime he didn't commit, Lawrence McKinney from Wilson County was still waiting on the state to decide if he'll be exonerated.

State Representative Mark Pody (R) called a news conference Thursday morning to say he's frustrated with how long the process is taking.

Pody said he was told months ago by the executive director of the State's Board of Parole that the board would have reviewed McKinney's paperwork with a recommendation for Gov. Bill Haslam by early June.

"It's a runaround, it's not being expedited and it needs to," Pody said. "We are playing with somebody's life. Every day we're taking another day away from him."

Tennessee Board of Parole Spokesperson Melissa McDonald said there was no time frame for when the board might complete its review of McKinney's file.

"For the board to complete its work on this application by early June would have been very optimistic," said McDonald. "These are matters the board takes seriously, and there is a lot of information to review before they determine whether to grant a clemency hearing."

McDonald said the application was in the review process. She said the board could choose to grant McKinney a hearing on his application for exoneration before making a non-binding recommendation to the governor. It would then be up to Haslam to either grant an exoneration or not.

McKinney also sought compensation for thousands of dollars in wages that the government garnished from his paycheck. Pody said the Social Security Administration informed Lawrence they overpaid him when he was released from prison.

If and when McKinney is exonerated by the governor, he would then be eligible to apply to the State Claims Commission for compensation.

"Can you picture getting out of prison after 30 some years, and you're getting this monthly stipend and then turn around and say we're not going to move this forward in Tennessee but we want that money that we did give you back? That's not right. That's not right," Pody said.

Pody said he wanted to file new legislation in January that would speed up the exoneration and compensation process for people who are found innocent of a crime.

"We've got justice to do, it's morally our responsibility to do this and that's why we need to stand up, and say he was done wrong. We need to set things right in Tennessee," Pody said.

This was McKinney's second attempt at exoneration. The parole board previously recommended to then-Governor Phil Bredesen not to grant exoneration. McKinney got a second chance with a different governor in office.