As a society, we’d like to believe our justice system is always accurate and fair, but that’s not always the case. Most of the time, our justice system makes the right call, but sometimes, they make a mistake.
One man learned this lesson the hard way when being in the wrong place at the wrong time had some devastating consequences. Things got even worse when no one had any pity for him…
Who Is Lawrence McKinney?
In 1977, Mr. McKinney was 22 and living in Memphis, Tennessee. Some of his pastimes involved drinking and watching television with his good pal Michael Yancy. The two spent a lot of time at Yancy’s home in his man cave, a decision that Lawrence would later regret.
A Knock At The Door
One night on October 2, 1977, Lawrence went over to Yancy’s home to hang out on his couch, watch television and enjoy a few beers. Yancy heard a knock on his door and ran to hide in his closet. A very confused Lawrence wondered what Yancy was hiding from…
When police walked in the door, they saw Lawrence lying on the couch and immediately put him in handcuffs. They searched for Yancy and put him in cuffs as well. Lawrence was more than shaken up, while Yancy had a very guilty look on his face.
They finally arrived at the police station after what felt like the longest drive ever and Lawrence demanded to know what he was doing there. Police told the men that a woman was awakened by two men that night, one armed with a knife, in her apartment in Memphis, Tennessee. Then, officers told them the even more horrific crime they were being charged with…
In addition to theft of the woman’s television, the men were being accused of rape! The victim identified Yancy and Lawrence as “Polly’s boy” and “Ollie Mae’s boy” and provided a first name of one of them and the address of the other.
Guilty Of Something?
Police first went to the home of Lawrence, but he wasn’t there. Then they went to the home of Yancy, where they found Lawrence lying on a couch and Yancy hiding in the closet. Both men denied being involved with the crime, but why was Yancy hiding in the closet?
Yancy told police that he thought they were there for a crime other than the one they were being accused of. He basically admitted he was guilty of something but didn’t say what. Lawrence, on the other hand, told officers there was no way he was guilty because he never left Yancy’s apartment.
A Way Out
On October 7, 1977, both men were charged with assault and burglary and their trial was set for July 1978. Lawrence spent every month leading up to the trial trying to figure out how the victim could have mistaken him for someone else. He came up with different scenarios and he couldn’t wait to tell them in court…
Sentenced To Life
During the trial, the victim identified the faces of Lawrence and Yandy as being her attackers. Yet, before the court could even question it, the men were convicted on July 22, 1978. They were sentenced to 115 years each in prison, 100 years for rape and 15 years for theft.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
It was more than unfair! Still, Lawrence accepted the punishment, even though he knew he wasn’t guilty. Lawrence’s lawyers advised him that if he wanted any chance of being released early, he would need to admit to something…
Admitted To Burglary
Lawrence wondered how an innocent man can go through with telling the courts he was guilty, but he listened to his lawyers and did it anyway. He told the parole board 28 years into his sentence that he was guilty of the burglary charge he was convicted of. Finally, Lawrence was optimistic.
Requested DNA Testing
His faith helped him cope through the next 3 years, and 31 years into his sentence, Lawrence awaited trial to finally prove he was innocent. He requested that DNA testing be conducted…
Biological Stains Tested
While Lawrence couldn’t understand how he didn’t ask for this sooner, at least he was doing it now. This was his last chance to prove that he was innocent and his entire life was riding on this DNA test. The court accepted Lawrence’s request and in January 2009, tests of biological stains from the victim’s bed linen were taken.
Evidence Did Not Match Lawrence’s DNA
The tests identified the DNA profiles of Yancy and the victim’s boyfriend, who was not involved in the attack, and also an unknown male. Lawrence’s DNA was not on anything, so why was he still in jail?
Courts finally determined that the DNA evidence was enough to prove Lawrence was innocent and on July 17, 2009, the charges against him were dismissed. Three days later, Lawrence was released and the Tennessee Department of Corrections handed him a $75 check.
A Mere $75
After spending 31 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Lawrence was handed only $75! To make matters worse, it took him three weeks to cash it since he didn’t even have a license. When Lawrence and his lawyer asked why this DNA wasn’t tested sooner, they were giving a ridiculous explanation…
Other DNA Samples
Prosecutors said the two samples not tested either had no DNA or were degraded so that tests could not be performed. Still, Patsy Bruce, who served on the Tennessee’s parole board for 12 years was not even convinced that Lawrence was innocent. Despite this, Lawrence demanded exoneration and then he was reminded of something.
While he was in jail, the board listed 97 infractions that he incurred, including the alleged assault of a fellow inmate, who testified against Lawrence at the hearing. These infractions made the Tennessee Board of Parole vote against his exoneration…
A Fresh Start
Lawrence still hopes that one day he would be exonerated, but in the meantime, he is working hard to put his life back together. In 2010, he married a pen pal with whom he corresponded during his time in jail. The two attend Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee together where McKinney participates in a Bible study five nights a week in hopes of becoming a pastor.
A New Perspective
“Although I’ve spent more than half my life locked up for a crime I did not do, I am not bitter or angry at anyone, because I have found the Lord and married a good wife,” Lawrence said. “All I ask is that I be treated right and fair for what has happened to me. I didn’t do anything, and I just want to be treated right.”