The state Board of Parole has voted against recommending exoneration of a Wilson County man who served 31 years in prison on a rape and burglary conviction before DNA evidence cleared him of the crime, reports The Tennessean.
The board, which voted 7-0 not to recommend the formal exoneration to the governor, still questioned his innocence.
Lawrence McKinney, 60, was released in 2009 after his 1978 conviction in Memphis was overturned. His record was expunged after his release, but attempts to get an executive exoneration have been mired in red tape, according to his supporters.
McKinney remained upbeat as his legal team plans to request an exoneration directly from Gov. Bill Haslam. The governor ultimately decides exoneration cases and is not bound by the board’s recommendation.
“I got two good lawyers that God put by my side, then I got a pastor and I got a church who going to stand behind me, and I’m going to do the best that I do to show who Jesus Christ is and I got a beautiful wife …” McKinney said.
Having criminal records expunged is a judicial process, but exoneration is an additional declaration of innocence awarded by the governor. If granted, the exoneration enables a person to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims.
“We’re going to go to the governor, we’re going to ask the governor to exonerate this man; he is not bound by this decision and I think public support for Mr. McKinney is overwhelming,” said David Raybin, one of McKinney’s attorneys.
McKinney’s hearing lasted nearly four hours and had the feel of a trial. He testified on his own behalf and said he was offered a deal of five years when he was arrested for the rape to testify against a co-defendant. But he turned it down “because I didn’t know anything about the crime.”
McKinney was sentenced to 100 years for the rape and 10 to 15 years for the burglary.
Parole board member Tim Gobble questioned evidence that contributed to McKinney’s original conviction, including victim statements that the woman knew her attackers. Gobble, who conducted the hearing, also went through a lengthy disciplinary record McKinney had in prison and questioned the completeness of the DNA testing that helped release McKinney.
McKinney was adamant that he was at home when the crime occurred … He didn’t deny a reported 97 incidents he was involved in while in prison but said that “only the strong survive” in a prison culture.
And in an emotional turn at the end of the hearing, James Beasley spoke to the board in opposition of granting exoneration, saying McKinney stabbed him while both were inmates at the Hardeman County Correctional Complex. Raybin said afterward that was a false accusation.
Board members questioned McKinney during the hearing about admissions to the crime made at a parole hearing after he had already served 28 years in prison. McKinney said admissions were only in hopes of getting released, but Gobble went through details of the admission and asked if McKinney was telling the truth then or now.