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Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 115 years when he was 22 years old but was released after it was proven that he was innocent of the crime. In total, he spent 31 years in prison. He was released because advanced DNA testing proved that he couldn’t have possibly been at the crime scene.

Although he was released in 2009, he was not officially exonerated until December 2017. In the US, being released from prison because it transpires that a person didn’t commit a crime, does not automatically make them innocent in the eyes of the law. Their criminal record remains and they have to go through an official parole hearing which looks at the case, including the new evidence, and makes a decision over whether or not to exonerate the person. In McKinney’s case, they decided not to exonerate him, with one of the members of the board saying that the description of the suspect matched McKinney very closely.

McKinney was arrested in 1977 when a woman identified him as one of two men that raped her in her apartment. In 1978, he was sentenced to 115 years in prison for rape and burglary. In 2008, DNA testing of the victim’s bedding discovered three individual people’s DNA, none of which were his. As a result his conviction was set aside and he was released in 2009.

It took until 2017 for McKinney to be formally exonerated. Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam intervened in order to go against the parole board’s verdict and exonerate McKinney himself. It is only after being formally exonerated that a person who was wrongfully imprisoned can sue for compensation. The maximum compensation allowed to be given is $1 million and the Board of Claims decided unanimously to award him the money, it is the largest amount ever given in compensation for a wrongful imprisonment.

He has immediately received $353,000 in order to pay his legal fees and will receive the rest in monthly instalments of $3350 for the rest of his life. The money is guaranteed to his beneficiaries if he dies within 10 years of the settlement. However, the money will never stop so long as he is alive which means he will ultimately receive more than $1 million should he live longer than 16 more years.

Difficult words

Exonerated: To release someone from fault of wrongdoing.

Transpires: To become known or to happen.

Parole: To be released from prison with a promise of good behaviour.

Conviction: A formal declaration of guilt.

Formally: Something that is done officially.

Intervened: To become involved and try to change something.

Compensation: Something awarded because of loss or suffering.

Unanimously: Everyone in agreement.

Beneficiaries: Someone who will gain your assets after death.

Activities

For listening practise, listen to the recorded article here:

British English:

American English:

Match the Synonym!

1. Exonerated A. Uncover
2. Transpires B. Official
3. Parole C. Officially innocent
4. Conviction D. Payment
5. Formally E. Officially guilty
6. Intervened F. All
7. Compensation G. Discharge
8. Unanimously H. Heir
9. Beneficiaries I.  Interfere

True or False?

1. McKinney’s original sentence was over a century long.  T / F

2. McKinney first went to prison when he was already elderly.T / F

3.  DNA testing allowed McKinney to be released. T / F

4. The man was in prison for more than four decades. T / F

5.  McKinney was not exonerated immediately. T / F

6. A woman wrongfully accused the man of rape. T / F

7.  Burglary was not one of his charges. T / F

8. The Governor of Tennessee helped McKinney become exonerated. T / F

9.  Someone can sue for compensation before they are exonerated. T / F

10. Nobody on the Board of Claims argued that he should get the money.T / F

Unscramble the sentence!

1. years / was / for / years / sentenced / he / was / 115 / Lawrence McKinney / when / 22

2. not / decided / they / In / to / him / McKinney’s / case / exonerate

3. two / when / woman / one / him / as / was / identified / 1977 / men / of / a / McKinney / arrested / in

4. $1 / million / be / to / compensation / given / is / allowed / The / maximum

5. 10 / years / he / beneficiaries / if / The / is / dies / money / guaranteed / within / his / to

Listening and Vocabulary

Listen to the article and fill in the words OR practice vocabulary and fill in the words.

British English:

American English:

 Remains  Discovered Proven
 Intervened Settlement  Compensation
 Description  Exonerated  Immediately

Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 115 years when he was 22 years old but was released after it was ___________ that he was innocent of the crime. In total, he spent 31 years in prison. He was released because advanced DNA testing proved that he couldn’t have possibly been at the crime scene.

Although he was released in 2009, he was not officially _______________ until December 2017. In the US, being released from prison because it transpires that a person didn’t commit a crime, does not automatically make them innocent in the eyes of the law. Their criminal record ____________ and they have to go through an official parole hearing which looks at the case, including the new evidence, and makes a decision over whether or not to exonerate the person. In McKinney’s case, they decided not to exonerate him, with one of the members of the board saying that the ________________ of the suspect matched McKinney very closely.

McKinney was arrested in 1977 when a woman identified him as one of two men that raped her in her apartment. In 1978, he was sentenced to 115 years in prison for rape and burglary. In 2008, DNA testing of the victim’s bedding ______________ three individual people’s DNA, none of which were his. As a result his conviction was set aside and he was released in 2009.

It took until 2017 for McKinney to be formally exonerated. Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam _____________ in order to go against the parole board’s verdict and exonerate McKinney himself. It is only after being formally exonerated that a person who was wrongfully imprisoned can sue for compensation. The maximum compensation allowed to be given is $1 million and the Board of Claims decided unanimously to award him the money, it is the largest amount ever given in ______________ for a wrongful imprisonment.

He has _______________  received $353,000 in order to pay his legal fees and will receive the rest in monthly instalments of $3350 for the rest of his life. The money is guaranteed to his beneficiaries if he dies within 10 years of the ______________. However, the money will never stop so long as he is alive which means he will ultimately receive more than $1 million should he live longer than 16 more years.

Conversation Questions

Take turns speaking with a partner or try to answer on your own:

1. Did you find this article interesting? Why or why not?
2. Did you learn anything new from this article? If so, what?
3. Is crime a big issue in your country?
4. How much do you think the man should get for spending 31 years in prison?
5. What can be done to stop people being wrongfully imprisoned?
6. What would you do if you were wrongfully imprisoned?
7. Do you think a 115 year sentence is ever justified?
8. What do you think about the death penalty?
9. Is it right that someone can be released from prison but not exonerated?
10. What are prison conditions like in your country?
11. Should all crimes committed before DNA testing was available have DNA testing done on the evidence now?
12. How does your country reintegrate prisoners into society?
13. How difficult is it for a person with a criminal record to get a job in your country?
14. Do you think there is a better alternative to prison?
15. Should prison be used more or less as a punishment?
16. How are people chosen for jury duty in your country?
17. Do you think there is a better alternative to a jury?
18. Do you think racism was a factor in his conviction?
19. Is racism a problem in your country?
20. What would you like to ask the man?