Imagine being wrongfully imprisoned for a crime that you did not commit and finally being exonerated three decades later. How much money do you think would be enough to compensate for the injustice you’ve suffered?

For some, no amount can ever bring back the time that has been lost, but one innocent man who was cleared of assault and burglary charges, after spending almost 32 years behind bars, waged a legal battle against the state to get a decent compensation for the life that was unjustly taken away from him.

The maximum payout for wrongful convictions under the Tennessee law is $1 million

A Million-Dollar Payout

Lawrence McKinney, a man from Tennessee, was wrongfully imprisoned for assault and burglary charges in 1978, after the court sentenced him to 115 years in prison, but the Department of Corrections finally exonerated him after finding proof of his innocence 32 years later.

In 2008, when McKinney was finally declared a free man, the Department of Corrections gave him a pitiful amount of $75 to start his life afresh – but for a man who had lost 3 decades of his life paying for someone else’s crime, the small sum was not enough compensation.

So, Lawrence did what any other man in his position would have done: he decided to take his case to the court and demand for the maximum compensation allowed under the Tennessee law. Jack Lowery, who has been working as McKinney’s attorney ever since he was released from prison, says that the road to justice has been a long one, but McKinney has finally come out victorious after receiving $1 million payout from the Department of Corrections.

Recently Exonerated by the Governor

After being released from prison in 2008, McKinney has been trying to clear his name so that he can start his life over. Moreover, the Tennessee law states that anyone seeking monetary compensation from the Department of Corrections must first get a formal exoneration from the Governor’s office. But McKinney knew that he couldn’t accomplish this feat alone so he decided to hire Lowery as his lawyer.

The exoneration process was particularly hard since the Tennessee Board of Parole had found no evidence which convinced them that McKinney was innocent. As a result, in 2016, the board unanimously decided to decline clemency in McKinney’s case.

According to the law, McKinney needed to be formally exonerated before he could claim his $1 million payout, but the process wasn’t an easy one

McKinney, who was 62 years old at the time, wasn’t about to give up so easily – after all, he had put up a fight for 32 years behind bars and finally received Justice; he knew he could do it again. After continuously pushing for exoneration, the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, announced his verdict and decided to exonerate McKinney despite the recommendation of the Board of Parole. The decision, which came only 5 days before the holidays last year, was the perfect definition of a Christmas miracle.

A Unanimous Vote

McKinney after receiving the $1 million payout

After his exoneration, McKinney received a payout of $1 million after a unanimous vote from the Board of Tennessee – some members of the board even said that they would have given more if the state law didn’t have a maximum cap on how much compensation a person could receive after exoneration.

The reward is to split into a lump sum of $353,000 which McKinney plans to use to pay his legal fees and buy a car, whereas the remaining amount will be split into monthly $3,300 annuity for at least the next 10 years. In case of McKinney’s death, the money will go to his wife, who had stayed in touch with him through letters while he was in prison.

In an interview with CNN, McKinney says that he is appreciative of the money he received from the board because now he wouldn’t have to work so hard in old age to earn money for survival.

He thanks god, the church, and his wife, who had constantly supported him through the difficult period of his life and given him the courage to fight for justice in times when he had given up on hope for freedom. Surprisingly, McKinney has no anger or hate towards the people who were responsible for the grave injustice he had to suffer from. He now wants to leave the past in the past and look forward to the few years of life he is left with.

How much money do you think is enough to compensate for 32 years of wrongful imprisonment?

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