Friday, October 10, 2008

CA: The DeWayne McKinney case

More "coaching" of witnesses by lazy police

On Dec. 11, 1980, a robber entered a Burger King in Orange, leapt over the counter and told the 19-year-old manager to open the safe. After the manager did so, the gunman shot him in the head, execution style. When shown a photo of McKinney, four witnesses stated he was the robber, but only after coercion from police investigators, said Orange County Assistant Public Defender Denise Gragg. Gragg was the attorney who built the case for McKinney's freedom.

Police investigators at the time told the witnesses about McKinney's past criminal history and involvement with gangs, and that they had sufficient evidence against him, Gragg said. "All lies," Gragg said. "But none of the witnesses disclosed this to the defense at the time, so there was no way to find that out." McKinney was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutor Tony Rackauckas pushed for the death penalty, but the jury was hung on that decision.

In the late '90s, fellow inmates told McKinney that they knew who the real killer was, and gave statements identifying that man. When the original trial witnesses were approached with a photo of the real killer, the witnesses said they had picked the wrong man. Other witnesses at the time also said a car seen during the robbery matched the new suspect's car.

The evidence was brought to Rackauckas, who is now the Orange County district attorney. Rackauckas' own investigation concluded that McKinney was innocent of the murder. The new suspect in the 1980 case has been in and out of prison for other offenses, but has not been prosecuted for the murder.

McKinney was released in 2000 with nothing but the clothes on his back. He worked for the audio/visual program of the University of California Irvine campus. He became a speaker for youth groups, crime victims, police departments and prosecutors. He eventually won a $1.7 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against the Orange Police Department. He then began investing in automated-teller machines, profiting off convenience fees. He moved with his then-wife, Jeanine, to Hawaii, where he established more ATMs. His business is called Island ATMs and he owned 48 machines statewide.

His attorney, Los Angeles-based Jeff Rawitz, said moving to Hawaii was a lifelong dream of his. McKinney kept a picture of Hawaii on his cell wall. While he served his time, McKinney was assaulted, stabbed and threatened. Gragg said despite the abuse, McKinney bore no grudges, not even against the man who had him convicted, Rackauckas.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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