Exonerate Man Proven Innocent After 31 Years in Prison

Target: Bill Haslam, Governor of Tennessee

Goal: Clear innocent man of rape and burglary charges.

Lawrence McKinney was sentenced in 1978 to 100 years in prison under maximum security for a crime he did not commit. His innocence was proven through advances in DNA testing and he was released over three decades after his incarceration, yet the Tennessee Board of Parole has twice voted against recommending he be exonerated. State legislation passed in 2004 awards compensation to exonerated citizens, and were McKinney granted clearance, he would be entitled to up to $1 million for his troubles.

In 1977, a woman was raped by two men, and she identified McKinney as one of her attackers. Almost one year later, 21-year-old McKinney was found guilty and spent the next 31 years of his life doing hard time in prison while fighting for his innocence. In 2008, tests performed on the victim’s bed sheets revealed three sets of DNA, none of which belonged to McKinney. One month later, the court and district attorney decided to clear him of his criminal record, but complete exoneration requires action from Governor Bill Haslam.

A letter explaining why the board’s recommendation should be ignored and McKinney be exonerated was sent to Haslam by McKinney’s attorneys. It explains that the trial was flawed because the person who conducted the meeting was a prosecutor who acted as both a judge and a witness. The board used McKinney’s prison record of fighting as a means of denying exoneration, even though he has not caused any trouble in the seven years since he was released. McKinney has owned up to 97 incidents of excessive aggression, explaining that only the tough survive in a maximum security prison. Board officials also noted his confession, which McKinney says was coerced out of him in order to lessen his sentence. McKinney’s council was limited in what they could say and do to express their contradictions.

It is obvious that this man has gone through too much to prove his innocence and attain freedom. The board continues to distrust the DNA tests and McKinney, though evidence shows he is innocent. Since the legislation that allowed compensation for exonerated individuals was passed, Tennessee has only allowed this clearance for two people, possibly because they do not want to pay out the millions of dollars they would owe. Tell Governor Haslam to exonerate this innocent man so he can live the life he deserves.


Dear Governor Haslam,

You already know you have the power to exonerate Lawrence McKinney of crimes he did not commit. A letter was sent to your office from his attorneys outlining the reasons he should be completely free of his criminal record, including the fact that a DNA test proved his innocence. Incarcerating a person for over 30 years for something he did not do is bad enough, but to then deny that person their human right to be free is just plain criminal in itself.

Tennessee has only exonerated two people since passing legislation that entitled exonerated citizens to compensation, and now it’s looking like just an excuse to keep prisoners in the system. Unfortunately, people are falsely incriminated too often, but when their innocence is proven, it is only right to pay them back for the life that was taken away. We ask that you use your power to exonerate Lawrence McKinney immediately so that he can attain the life he is warranted.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Barbara Rosner

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