Lawrence McKinney can begin his new life spreading the message of Jesus Christ after finding out Monday his record was expunged after a more than 35-year wait.
He was wrongfully accused of rape and first-degree burglary in Memphis in 1977, 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.”
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 works 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.
On Monday, McKinney said “it feels great” to finally begin the process of putting things back together in his life.
“I was real young when I went to prison,” he said. “I lost a lot of things, going to college, having a job. It took a lot away from me. I take it one day at a time.”
John Hunn, pastor of McKinney’s home church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon, said it is a relief to know his record is cleared.
“It’s an incredible relief,” Hunn said. “I was pacing all morning awaiting an important decision. I have been so disappointed over the past four years we couldn’t get anything done. The district attorney stepped in and said she could take care of it. I was told it took about 15 seconds to get it all handled. It will take seven to 10 days to get all the computers cleared, but it’s done.
“There’s nothing like this I’ve ever experienced. It’s like a family member being cleared. He wants to vote, and he wants to leave the country to go on some mission trips. Now he will be able to do that.”
McKinney said he is looking forward to going on mission trips once all of the paperwork related to the process is completed. He will be able to apply for a passport and start spreading his message abroad. He said he doesn’t have a specific place in mind to start his missions.
“It don’t make no difference, just as long as I can spread the message about Jesus Christ.”
He also said his wife, Dorothy, has been there for him through the entire process.
“She’s been there ever since June of 2005. I knew she was a good person. God sent her my way. God ain’t never wrong.”
Hunn said a celebration is in the works for McKinney that will be held at Immanuel and also involve Lebanon Church of God, where McKinney also attends Bible studies.
McKinney said he attends seven Bible studies a week between Lebanon Church of God and his home church at Immanuel Baptist Church.
“All of the citizens would say the state owes him something, and the law says he’s owed something,” said Hunn.
“I know God was in control. I’m a free man now,” McKinney said.
A decision on whether the state will award McKinney restitution remains pending.
“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.”