Innocent Man Free to Dream Again

DeWayne McKinney is man who served nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He came out with nothing and had every reason to lash out at the injustice. But he didn't. McKinney changed his life in a way that's inspiring. The Early Show's Dave Price reports for the My New Life series.



"I can have nothing and I'd still be content," says McKinney, "because I embrace this moment! Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that my life has come to this point."

It's 1980. The owner of a Burger King in Orange County, Calif., is gunned down and a 19-year-old gang banger is identified through photos, charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Dewayne McKinney says he didn't do it.

"It was like, who do you believe?" McKinney says. "Are you going to take the word of this guy who has lived this lifestyle? He's a gang member."

McKinney was locked away with some of the most dangerous felons in the nation — such as Charles Manson.

"Charlie. Charlie was my neighbor," McKinney says. "(But) there are people far scarier than Charlie. I was stabbed about eight times. I was assaulted more times than I can ever remember. So it was constant. But it was more mental anguish."

As the years stretched to nearly two decades, McKinney continued to plead his innocence in vain — and he was losing hope.

"It was like, 'God, why me? What did I do to deserve this?' " he says.

It was journalist Stuart Pfeifer from the Los Angeles Times who took up his cause.

"I just found him to be genuine," Pfeifer says. "I believed. I believed his story."

And then, a career criminal named Raymond Jacquet confessed to the murder. Then the same man who prosecuted McKinney set him free.

A tape from January 2000 provided by CBS News station KCBS shows Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas saying, "As the situation we're left with, we have to petition the court to get Mr. McKinney out."

Pfeifer was there with him the day he was released. "He was lost when he walked out there," Pfeifer says. "He didn't have a Driver's License, a Social Security number, a change of clothes, a toothbrush."

Still, McKinney says, "You step out happy! You know, overjoyed, but at the same time, very fearful. I was being given the opportunity. My life was being given back."

First, he found love with Jeanine, the woman who would become his wife. Then, two years after his release, McKinney received a $1.7 million settlement and moved to Hawaii to start his life all over again.

"Even though it was a great amount," McKinney says, "at the same time, I knew that I could also lose it. And so I set out to do research in terms of trying to find a perfect business."

McKinney invested that money and now owns a network of ATM machines throughout Hawaii.

"I wanted to put myself in a position where I didn't have to worry," McKinney says. "That my family didn't have to worry."

His ATM business and some wise real estate investments have made McKinney a multi-millionaire.

"Never, never, never in my wildest dreams would I ever thought it would come to this," he says. "But I'm thankful that it did. It's not so much the home or money, but it's life itself. That's what it really comes down to — dreaming, having that dream."
  • Tatiana Morales

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