Breaking News
More () »

Exonerated man says $832,000 not enough

The first person Tennessee paid money to after being wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit says the more than $800,000 awarded to him hasn't been enough.

The first person Tennessee paid money to after being wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit says the more than $800,000 awarded to him hasn't been enough.

Clark McMillan, 59, of Memphis, was convicted in 1980 for the rape and robbery of a 16-year-old girl before DNA evidence cleared him in 2002 and he was released from prison.

State lawmakers passed legislation in 2004 to pay McMillan $832,950 to compensate him for his time in prison. His case now points the way forward as a Wilson County man also seeks a formal exoneration and potential compensation for the time he served for a crime he also did not do.

McMillan received $250,000 up front with the remainder placed in an annuity that pays him about $3,400 a month, according to the Tennessee Board of Claims.

But more than two decades in prison rendered McMillan unable to build a career and job skills, he said. An array of medical costs from multiple health issues without adequate insurance also have swallowed much of McMillan’s income, he said.

“I’m treated like I should be glad to have gotten something,” McMillan said. “There has been nothing to cover job training, placement, medical care, post-traumatic stress. Help me restore my dignity so I can get a job. My compensation is controlled by the state and they dictate what my life is worth.”

Wilson County’s Lawrence McKinney spent 31 years in prison until his release in 2009 when DNA evidence also proved his innocence in a rape case.

McKinney has a hearing Tuesday with the Tennessee Board of Parole, which provides a recommendation to the governor on whether to issue a formal exoneration order. The governor is not bound to follow or act on the parole board’s recommendation.

McKinney's criminal record has been expunged, but if he is exonerated he would be eligible to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims. Claims are capped at $1 million.

“There is not enough money to compensate people going through something like that,” said Rob Briley, a former state representative and the House sponsor of the legislation for McMillan’s case. Briley is an attorney who also represented McMillan for free before the Tennessee Board of Parole and Tennessee Board of Claims.

“They should increase the compensation and lower the bar to be considered" for exoneration, he said. "That is not easy to get from the governor.”

The state has paid only two exoneration claims, McMillan’s and about $142,000 to a man in 2012 who was exonerated after spending two years and three months in prison after being wrongly convicted of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual battery of a 9-year-old.

Attorney David Raybin, who is part of McKinney's legal team, said he opposes how the state puts money into an annuity for those wrongly convicted.

“You don’t do that in personal injury cases," he said. "They could invest. Let them spend it how they see fit. We don’t have an appropriate compensation model.”

McMillan suffers from paralysis in his right leg and a spinal injury from a gunshot wound at age 18 when he said he walked into a shootout involving police. McMillan and his wife are diabetic, he said.

Qualifying for subsidized health insurance has been a challenge because of his income with the annuity, McMillan said. He also suspects the stigma of prison, even with his conviction vacated and charges dismissed, also has lingered with employers.

“They did give me something and a lot of people play off that,” McMillan said. “But it’s not mine. I could not make a rational decision of something I had no experience of. The legislators promised they would take care of me. When disagreements arose I felt they closed me off.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, was a state senator when McMillan was released from prison and the Senate sponsor of legislation crafted and approved.

The monthly payment was designed to help McMillan manage finances because he hadn’t been dealing with money in society for 22 years while he was in prison and to protect him from being taken advantage of. Cohen calls it “outstanding legislation.”

But the congressman also feels job training and health benefits regardless of the amount someone is awarded with an exoneration claim would be “appropriate" for the current state legislature should consider.

“I could picture us going along with something like that,” said state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who has advocated for McKinney and already indicated he wants to craft legislation to address the pace of exoneration attempts.

“I think we would want to give them more than money,” Pody said. “I want to make sure the system is working properly.”

McMillan also was acquitted of wrongdoing in a 1978 shooting that involved a police officer in Memphis. McMillan was shot in the back, which led to his spinal injury, he said.

McMillan did buy a home for himself and his wife with the initial lump sum payment, he said. But shortly after getting the home, McMillan had to assume a mortgage to help pay for his mother’s funeral, he said. McMillan also initially received disability payments, but was cut off when he began receiving money from the state, he said.

He also had to cover medical bills and other expenses for the three years between when he was released and the state approved his compensation package.

“This man spent 20 years in prison unjustly, and all involved wanted to make this right as best as possible,” said state Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis. “A man who was wrongly convicted and locked up 20 years is probably not ready to make those decisions to handle that money.

“In my opinion the state made a wise decision to place that in an annuity to pay him the rest of his life. We didn’t want to write a check and that would be that. I feel like the state of Tennessee gave him a new life. I think that was our intent.”

Follow Andy Humbles on Twitter: @AndyHumbles

Paid Advertisement