Wrongfully convicted Tenn. man fights for compensation

LEBANON, Tennessee -- These days, Lawrence McKinney can’t seem to stay still. The 60-year old has spent enough time sitting in one place.

A Memphis, Tennessee, jury convicted McKinney of rape and burglary in 1978. The victim identified him as one of the two men who attacked her in her bedroom. He was sentenced to 115 years.

When he was convicted, McKinney recalled, “I still could not believe it because I thought it was a dream or something.”

In 2008, DNA testing of evidence scientifically excluded McKinney as a suspect. Prosecutors said, “if this evidence had been available ... there would have been no prosecution.”

b2-villafranca-tn-exonorated-1212.jpg

Lawrence McKinney

CBS News

McKinney was released and given $75 in 2009, after more than 31 years and nine months.

“I don’t have no life, all my life was taken away,” he said.

Since then, McKinney has depended on odd jobs at his church just to pay the bills. Under Tennessee law he could be eligible for up to $1 million in compensation. But the parole board, which hears such cases, has rejected his request twice.

“In an exoneration hearing we have to have a lot of evidence, clear and convincing,” said Patsy Bruce, who served on Tennessee’s parole board for 12 years and heard McKinney’s first exoneration case.

When asked why the judgments of the judge and district attorney weren’t convincing enough, she replied, “Because they didn’t notice that they didn’t test everything ordered by the original judge to be tested.”

Prosecutors say the two samples not tested either had no DNA or were so degraded tests could not be performed.

“I have not been convinced he is innocent,” Bruce said.

“It is not justice for him not to receive compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned,” said Jack Lowery, McKinney’s lawyer.

Lowery has appealed the case to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has the final say.

“There has been one mistake made that sent him to prison. I trust that another is not made that does not allow him exoneration,” Lowery said.

Haslam’s decision could come at any moment. After waiting 31 years for his freedom, McKinney’s says he can wait a little longer.