A Wilson County man wrongfully convicted of rape and robbery nearly 40 years ago is officially asking the state for $1 million in damages.
The move comes just days after Lawrence McKinney was exonerated by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Attorneys for McKinney filed a formal petition Thursday with the Tennessee Board of Claims seeking compensation under the state's 2004 law awarding damages for wrongful convictions. Only two people have succeeded in receiving awards, and McKinney's filing follows a years-long effort to put him in the legal position to ask for compensation.
In 2009, McKinney’s charges were expunged and he was released from prison after serving more than three decades. But because he had not been declared innocent, the 61-year-old could not ask for compensation until the governor cleared his record last week.
It was the first time Haslam has granted clemency in his nearly seven years in office.
McKinney's case had been championed by state Sen. Mark Pody, R-Mt. Juliet, and members of McKinney's Wilson County church. In a 2016 interview, McKinney explained how difficult it's been for him to survive financially after prison. When he was released, he was given only $75 and later secured a small federal pension.
"When I got a job in 2012, the church helped me get it. Then SSI sent me a bill saying I owe them $13,000. They overpaid me," he said.
Social Security claimed that sum should not have been given to McKinney and tried to reclaim it. It began garnishing $300 each month from his entry-level wages.
McKinney was sentenced to more than 100 years behind bars in 1978 for a rape and burglary in Memphis. Later, DNA tests on samples collected at the crime scene would show that McKinney was unlikely to have been present.
That led authorities to release McKinney. Twice afterward, the Board of Parole reviewed McKinney's case, but both times it recommended against exoneration, saying that the DNA could not conclusively prove he hadn't been involved. Gov. Phil Bredesen left office without acting on his petition; Haslam overruled the board to grant McKinney clemency.
McKinney's request for $1 million is the maximum allowed under Tennessee law for wrongful imprisonment. Of the two previous awards, the larger was $832,000 given to man who served 22 years and 6 months on a wrongful rape conviction.
But writing on McKinney's behalf, attorney David Raybin argues his client deserves to receive more. He notes that McKinney served nearly a decade longer, and he adds that inflation has made $1 million less generous than in 2004.
"Under any definition of just compensation for over 31 years wrongful incarceration for the horrendous crime of rape, $1,000,000.00 is appropriate," he wrote. "Mr. McKinney is entitled to no more under the law as it stands, but justice dictates no less."