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Ex-Inmate Files Claims for Damages

DeWayne McKinney, cleared of 1980 murder conviction, launches a case against police, prosecutors and agency that freed him, the public defender's office.

May 17, 2000|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DeWayne McKinney, whose murder conviction was overturned after he spent nearly two decades in prison, has filed damage claims against police, prosecutors and the very agency that was instrumental in setting him free, the Orange County public defender's office.

In allegations filed against the city of Orange and the county, McKinney, 39, accuses the Orange Police Department, the district attorney's office and his court-appointed attorneys of mishandling his case and causing his unjust incarceration.

McKinney was arrested by Orange police in 1980 after a robbery and murder at a fast-food restaurant. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Walter Bell, 19, the night manager at the restaurant. But in 1997, another prison inmate confessed to participating in the crime and cleared McKinney.

After an exhaustive two-year investigation, the public defender's office filed a petition for a new trial for McKinney. The district attorney's office, after its own investigation, found there was reasonable doubt about McKinney's guilt and asked a judge to free him. He walked out of Lancaster State Prison on Jan. 29.

Since McKinney's release, his supporters have raised the issue of compensation for him.

The administrative claims, filed by mail May 11, is a prelude to possible legal action. They allege that Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, Public Defender Carl Holmes and Superior Court Judge Chris Strople, among others, are responsible for "witness tampering, and withholding and failing to investigate clearly exculpatory evidence" in McKinney's case.

Rackauckas was the original prosecutor in the case. Strople, a former deputy public defender, represented McKinney in his first trial. Holmes represented McKinney in 1986 after an appellate court ruled the original jury was given wrong instructions and returned the case to lower court. McKinney was convicted a second time.

Catherine Whiting, an attorney for the Santa Monica law firm representing McKinney, would not elaborate on the allegations.

"Obviously, we feel there are facts to support the claims," she said. "But at this point we are not ready to comment on the specifics."

Rackauckas, Holmes and Strople would not comment.

McKinney said he feels sorry his strongest allies may now sit across the table in possible litigation but declined to comment further.

"I just want to put all this behind me," he said.

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