It would be easy for Lawrence McKinney to hate life.
After all, he was wrongfully accused of rape and first-degree burglary, sentenced by a jury of his peers to 100 years in prison and spent nearly 32 of those years in confinement until his release in July 2009.
“I spent 31 years, nine months, 18 days and 12 hours in prison,” McKinney said. “I left with $75.”
In August 1977, McKinney moved to Memphis and had been there for 34 days before his arrest.
“I had just left the house and went to visit a childhood friend,” McKinney said. “The police kicked in the door and asked us about some stuff that had happened. I could have run, but I knew that wasn’t right.”
When he was convicted, McKinney said he bounced around prisons across Tennessee after getting into some trouble.
“It was just a life I was raised up with,” he said. “I used to be a very bad person, but once I found Christ it turned everything around.”
After accepting Christ as his savior, McKinney decided to change his life.
“The other dude who was locked up with me, he wrote the Innocence Project in New York,” he said. “They came down and got the DNA test for me.”
The Innocence Project is a nonprofit legal organization committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing, and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. McKinney said the Innocence Project took DNA samples on his birthday in May 2008.
The following November, McKinney said he received word his guilty conviction was reversed. In January 2009, prison officials said he would be released within three weeks, but he was finally released July 20, 2009.
“If you find Jesus, he can do the things you need him to do,” McKinney said. “When I found Jesus, I put all my problems in his hands.”
Following his release, McKinney moved to Lebanon. He now has a job at Lifeway in Nashville in its warehouse, ministers to youth at Lebanon Church of God every third Saturday and leads a jail ministry at Wilson County Jail.
“God put me in there to show me He is in control,” McKinney said about working at Lifeway. “It's put me in a place where I am helping to get the message out to people who need to hear it.”
He said he’s also been married for 45 months and 15 days to his wife, Dorothy, who he met while in prison.
“She had a nephew in prison,” McKinney said. “I told him I wanted to meet a nice Christian woman. When I asked her to marry me, she told me we hadn’t known each other long enough. I told her God doesn't make any mistakes.”
McKinney said he attends seven Bible studies a week between Lebanon Church of God and his home church at Immanuel Baptist Church.
“It's not about you anymore,” McKinney said. “It's about God. When you find God, it's all about him.”
But for all the things going his way now in his life, he said the state still won’t completely expunge his record of his time in prison.
“In my opinion, the state doesn't want to exonerate me because it would have to give me $1 million,” he said. “It doesn't matter to me. I know God will take care of me.
“They said I have to wait until the governor leaves office before anything happens. As far as I am concerned, it's in God's hands. You are in a bad world if you don't know Jesus.”
Immanuel Baptist Church Pastor John Hunn and others at the church are working to try and get McKinney’s record cleared. He’d like to be able to get a passport to be able to leave the U.S. for mission work but can’t due to his felonious record.
“He deserves an apology, along with everything owed to him and more,” Hunn said.