In December 2017 Gov. Bill Haslam went against the recommendations of the Board of Parole to grant exoneration to Lawrence McKinney.
On Tuesday this week, McKinney was able to personally thank the governor.
McKinney has sought exoneration since he was released from prison in 2009. He served 31 years, 9 months and 18 days for a crime he did not commit.
Haslam cheerfully greeted McKinney in his office at the State Capitol.
“I know it probably felt to you like it took us a long time to get there, but we wanted to make sure we were seeing it right,” Haslam said of the process.
McKinney was arrested on Oct. 7, 1977, in Shelby County on charges of rape and burglary. At that time, DNA tests were not available. Law enforcement instead brought McKinney and another man to the victim for identification. She misidentified McKinney – resulting in him being sentenced to 110 years.
Over three decades later, DNA tests cleared him of those charges. McKinney was released from prison with a petty cash voucher valued at $75 from the State of Tennessee.
The Tennessee Board of Parole voted against recommending exoneration for McKinney over a year ago.
The face-to-face meeting was coordinated by Sen. Mark Pody.
During a press conference which followed news of his exoneration in December, McKinney told reporters that God put “the right people in my way to do this.”
Several of those people were also present at his meeting with Gov. Haslam Tuesday. They included wife of eight years, Dorothy, who he met as a pen pal while serving time; his Pastor John Hunn of Immanuel Baptist Church; and Pody who heard McKinney’s story from Hunn two years ago while serving as a State Representative and made it his mission to help.
Pody commended Haslam on the gubernatorial exoneration.
“If someone is exonerated and they break the law in any way, people will come back and point fingers and say, ‘You did this.’ That is why most of the time when a governor grants an exoneration, they will do it when they are really close to the end (of their term) – but he didn’t,” Pody explained. “He made the decision with almost a year left. It was a classy move on his part, and I have to give him kudos on that.”
Pody said McKinney came to his office a couple of weeks ago to thank him for his work in the case. While Pody appreciated that, he said the credit goes to the governor.
“I went to the governor’s office and arranged a meeting,” Pody added.
He described Pastor Hunn as another “driving force” in their mission – and obtaining the $1 million that is ultimately due McKinney.
Lawrence has completed the paperwork, physical and psychological testing required by the state.
Now he waits.
“They are ready to get this to the finish line. He has done everything that has been asked of him, but he hasn’t had that final ‘it’s over’ yet,” said Hunn. “(McKinney’s) faith is so strong in God because he doesn’t put his faith in men. So many people have failed him.”
McKinney, who now resides in Lebanon, was represented in his quest by attorneys Jack Lowery and David Raybin.
McKinney responded that the news of his exoneration came at Christmastime.
“It was the best Christmas present I’ve ever had,” McKinney said.