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Haslam talks McKinney exoneration

Xavier Smith • Jul 6, 2017 at 5:14 PM

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday his office continues to work toward a decision regarding Lawrence McKinney’s exoneration, although he did not set a timeframe for a decision.

“Like everything else, nothing’s quite as simple as it first appears. We’re doing our due diligence and going back to talk to everyone from prosecutors who were involved to members of the judicial system to make certain that we make a real thoughtful decision,” Haslam said.

Haslam’s remarks come less than three months after Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, pulled legislation inspired by McKinney due to lack of support from fellow legislators.

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 hasn’t granted McKinney’s exoneration, which has kept him from applying to receive up to $1 million for wrongful conviction. The decision currently solely rests with Haslam.

Pody’s bill would have removed the need for a parole board hearing and governor approval to be granted exoneration for anyone imprisoned for at least 25 years, and his or her sentence vacated by a judge due to DNA evidence. The person would then be eligible for compensation without input from the parole board or governor.  

Haslam said he would make a decision regarding McKinney’s case, although he did not say when that decision would come.

“I realize this has been delayed out for a long time, particularly for Mr. McKinney. We obviously want to treat that with respect, but we also want to make certain we get it right if we do an exoneration,” he said.

McKinney was denied recommendation for exoneration last year by the state Board of Parole.

“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 attorney Jack 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.

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