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Orange County | DANA PARSONS

With This Guy's Backing, Election Is Just an Afterthought

January 27, 2002|DANA PARSONS

Suggestion to Wally Wade:

Pack it up. It's all over. Thanks for playing our game and please drive home safely.

For a while there, it looked like things were going Wade's way in his rematch with Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas. Wade, a deputy district attorney trying to unseat his boss, has racked up some meaty endorsements, and Rackauckas appeared wobbly.

Then came Saturday's photo op on the sidewalk outside the D.A.'s office, which may have left Wade rethinking this endorsement thing.

There was DeWayne McKinney making what I think is safe to call the first political endorsement of his life.

Wondering who McKinney is? A local police chief, perhaps? A retired judge? The head of an important civic organization?

Not exactly.

McKinney is the poor guy who, until he was released in January 2000, spent 19 years behind bars for a 1980 Orange County murder he almost certainly didn't commit.

The prosecutor who put him behind bars: Mr. Rackauckas.

So, naturally, McKinney is endorsing Wade.

Or so you might think.

Nope, McKinney, 41, is telling anyone who cares that the man he supports for district attorney is none other than Tony Rackauckas. You couldn't blame Rackauckas for wondering now if he can get every single vote in Orange County.

Let's put it this way: if you can get an endorsement from a man you wrongly prosecuted for murder and for whom you sought the death penalty and who lost 19 years of freedom ... who can't you get one from?

This is like Evander Holyfield testifying as a character witness for Mike Tyson: "Yes, Mr. Tyson took two bites out of my ear during one of our fights, but I believe him to be a fine gentleman."

So it was, on Saturday, as McKinney repeatedly shook Rackauckas' hand and lauded him for being the man who righted a wrong. Similar kind words came from McKinney's wife of nearly a year, Jeanine.

Rackauckas wasn't exactly trumpeting the moment, seemingly more intent on praising McKinney for the way he's handled the whole thing.

Not Exactly

D.A.'s Brainstorm

It wasn't the time to rain on anyone's parade.

But if I follow McKinney's logic, he's giving Rackauckas the credit for getting him out of prison. While that is technically true--the D.A.'s office did ask a judge to release McKinney after its investigation cast doubt on his guilt--it's not as though the case had haunted Rackauckas over the years.

The truth is, McKinney would have languished in prison for the rest of his life--his sentence didn't provide for parole--had not the Orange County public defender's office begun a new investigation in 1997. That investigation resulted from a letter the office received from the man who drove the getaway car the night McKinney supposedly shot and killed a Burger King employee during the robbery in Orange. The getaway driver, who was in prison, identified another inmate as the Burger King killer.

With the public defender pressing for a new trial, Rackauckas assigned investigators to take another look at the case. It's not cynical to say that likely was done so his office would know whether to oppose any motion for a new trial, but the investigators informed Rackauckas that the case against McKinney looked weak.

To his credit, Rackauckas accepted their findings and asked for McKinney's quick release.

Now, one could reasonably ask whether Rackauckas wanted to dispose of the case because any new trial would shine a light on his handling of McKinney's 1982 trial.

McKinney apparently has asked and answered that question to his satisfaction. He's a Rackauckas man, and who among us should tell him otherwise?

With the March 5 election fast approaching, maybe the two new pals could hit the campaign trail together. Imagine the yuks they'd generate at a joint appearance.

"DeWayne, it's a good thing I didn't do a better job of convincing the jury to have you executed," Rackauckas could say, extending a love tap toward McKinney's jaw. "If I had, you wouldn't be here today."

"Don't you think I know that?" McKinney could reply. "Why do you think I'm endorsing you?"


Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to

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