Gubernatorial hopeful Mae Beavers and state Senator-elect Mark Pody issued a joint statement Wednesday praising Governor Bill Haslam for his decision to exonerate Lawrence McKinney.
McKinney was wrongly convicted in 1978 for the brutal rape of a Shelby County woman and sentenced to 100 years behind bars. Throughout the trial and conviction, McKinney maintained he did not assault the woman in any way.
Decades later, The Innocence Project took up his case, and in 2008, DNA testing proved that of the samples collected by law enforcement at the time of the crime, none belonged to McKinney.
In June of 2009, McKinney’s conviction was vacated and he was released a month later. In all, he served 31 years in prison.
Despite his proven innocence of this heinous crime, however, Governor Phil Bredesen declined requests to exonerate McKinney – a move that would qualify him to file a unlawful imprisonment claim with the Tennessee Board of Claims.
That all changed with today’s decision by Governor Haslam.
Here is the full text of Beavers and Pody’s statement:
Gubernatorial candidate and former State Senator Mae Beavers as well as State Senator Elect Mark Pody expressed extreme gratitude to Governor Bill Haslam, who earlier Wednesday formally exonerated Lawrence McKinney for crimes that he did not commit. McKinney, a Wilson County man who was wrongfully convicted of rape and burglary in 1978, spent over thirty years in prison before having his convictions overturned when DNA evidence revealed he did not commit the crimes.
“The prayers of many people were answered today,” said Beavers. “But most importantly, the prayers of Lawrence McKinney, a man whose complete adult life was spent wrongfully behind bars, were answered by Governor Haslam. Mr. McKinney will never be able to get those years back, yet hopefully he will now be able to move forward with his life as a truly free man.”
Beavers and Pody, as well as his pastor John Hunn and many other advocates, have worked for years to shed light on McKinney’s situation. Beavers and Pody even sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would allow the automatic exoneration of someone who has had their conviction overturned but who has spent over 25 years in jail. The exoneration would not be dependent on the approval of the Parole Board or the Governor.
“It was an extreme injustice when Governor Phil Bredesen refused to act on McKinney’s request for exoneration, and when Parole Board refused to recommend his exoneration,” stated Pody. “However, the Shelby County District Attorney and the Shelby County Criminal Court correctly overturned his conviction, and now Mr. McKinney is truly innocent in the eyes of the law.”
McKinney’s exoneration will now allow him to make a claim to the state’s Board of Claims, so that he might receive compensation for his unlawful imprisonment.