The House Criminal Justice Committee approved a bill, which will head to full committee. Bill sponsor Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said the bill would improve and expedite the state’s exoneration process.
Pody drafted the bill after becoming involved in the Lawrence McKinney exoneration process.
McKinney was released in July 2009 after spending 31 years in prison for rape and robbery, crimes a Memphis judge ruled he didn’t commit in 1977 in Memphis. In 2014, a Shelby County judge expunged McKinney’s record with the state.
However, the state has not granted McKinney’s exoneration, which has kept him from applying to receive up to $1 million for wrongful conviction. The state’s parole board did not recommend exoneration for McKinney last year, and the decision now solely rests with Gov. Bill Haslam.
Pody’s bill would remove the need for a parole board hearing and governor approval. Under the bill, anyone imprisoned for at least 25 years, and that person’s sentence is vacated by a judge due to DNA evidence, would be eligible for compensation without input from the parole board or governor.
“I think 25 years is an appropriate time. That’s essentially a man or woman’s working lifetime. It also gives our judges a little more authority,” Pody said earlier this year.
McKinney’s exoneration hearing last year ended with frustration expressed from Pody and McKinney’s attorneys David Raybin and Jack Lowery, at the hearing’s process and procedures.
“I have to say as Mr. McKinney’s attorney, I didn’t expect some of the things to happen in this parole hearing that happened. One, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a parole hearing where the prosecutor had vote in the conclusion. I call him a prosecutor because he is a member of the board, but he certainly acted that way,” said Lowery, speaking of parole board member Tim Gobble, who conducted the hearing.
In his role as conductor, Gobble led the questioning about various things involved in the case, and even McKinney’s criminal record before the incident in 1977. Questions regarding the night of the incident surrounded McKinney and other suspect’s conflicting reports of where they were before and during the time of the crime.
The board also questioned evidence used in McKinney’s re-trial, with Gobble keying in on “missing” evidence, specifically a second piece of DNA evidence and vaginal swab results. The first and third pieces of evidence excluded McKinney as a possible suspect, according to Lorna McClusky, McKinney’s defense attorney with the Innocence Project.
Gobble said the evidence included a “big gaping hole,” and DNA evidence is not conclusive for guilt or innocence.
“I think a lot of irrelevant evidence was allowed in the hearing that had nothing to do with whether this man should have been exonerated. I think what they’ve done is disregard DNA evidence, which is recognized in our court system,” Lowery said.