Tennessee Man Compensated $75 For 31 Years Of False Imprisonment

Published December 16, 2016
Updated January 17, 2023

After needlessly spending three decades behind bars, Lawrence McKinney’s attempts to get exonerated have been mired by red tape.

A Tennessee man falsely imprisoned for more three decades is fighting to win greater compensation after state officials gave him just $75 and then sent him on his way in 2009.

Lawrence McKinney, now 60, spent 31 years in prison after a Tennessee court wrongly convicted him of raping a woman and stealing a television set in 1978.

Finally, in 2009, officials released McKinney after DNA evidence proved that he wasn’t even at the scene of the crime.

“I don’t have no life, all my life was taken away,” McKinney told CBS News, before his lawyer, Jack Lowery, added that his client suffered enough and that Tennessee authorities cannot redeem this injustice with compensation alone.

Following his release, McKinney is eligible for the maximum compensation — still only $1 million, thanks to tort reform legislation — for his ordeal, but only if the state’s parole board will allow him to present his case for exoneration.

So far, they have declined to do so twice. The seven Tennessee parole board members voted unanimously to deny hearing his exoneration case this past September, as well as once when McKinney was first released. One parole board member, Patsy Bruce, said that she voted against hearing McKinney’s exoneration because she was still not sure of his innocence.

McKinney’s last chance is Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who received McKinney’s executive clemency application in November.

It’s the second time McKinney has had to run the gauntlet, as the former governor did not act when McKinney applied shortly after his release following the parole board’s first denial.

“Being exonerated would put me on a standard with everyone else in society. I didn’t get a chance to build a career or buy a home. I lost all my 20s, 30s and 40s, but I’m a servant of the Lord and any blessing I get I just want for my wife,” McKinney told The Tennessean. McKinney is becoming a preacher at the Immanuel Baptist Church.

The governor’s office is currently reviewing the application, which includes the parole board’s confidential recommendation on what to do.

Haslam has three options in deciding McKinney’s fate: agree with the board’s recommendation, disagree, or abstain completely. What Haslam will do remains to be seen, however, since 2003, the Tennessee Board of Claims has only paid up for exoneration claims twice.

Next, hear from a man who feels like he’s time travelled following his release from prison after spending 44 years inside. Then, read the story of a mentally handicapped man who spent 31 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

All That's Interesting
Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.