HONOLULU — His living room opens onto a dazzling white beach and a panoramic ocean view. At night, he falls asleep listening to the crashing surf.
DeWayne McKinney has made a fortune selling convenience. He owns cash machines at nightclubs, pedestrian malls and other busy locations across the island of Oahu. Whenever a tourist withdraws cash, McKinney takes a cut.
He spends his days traversing the island in his black Mercedes-Benz, checking on his ATMs. Sometimes, he'll stop at Pipeline, the legendary surf spot, sip coffee and watch the waves glide to shore.
McKinney could be forgiven for wondering if this could possibly be happening to him. Until 5 1/2 years ago, he was in a California prison, serving a life sentence for murder.
"Sometimes I pinch myself. I'm living here? I know I've come a long way from there," McKinney, 44, said recently. "I'm at peace. In there, there's no peace. Every day is a day of worry and fear. Here, that doesn't exist."
The gunman entered the Burger King in the city of Orange near closing time Dec. 11, 1980. He leaped over the front counter and forced three employees into a walk-in cooler.
In the back of the restaurant, Walter Horace Bell Jr., the 19-year-old night manager, was counting the evening's receipts. The gunman forced Bell to open the safe, then shot him in the back of the head.
Six days later, police arrested McKinney, then 20, and charged him with the killing.
McKinney grew up in South Los Angeles and Ontario, lost his mother when he was 12 and spent his teenage years running with a gang.
Once, he cut a woman with a knife. A few years later, he and some friends were arrested with a gun outside a jewelry store. For attempted robbery, he was sent to the California Youth Authority.
He became a suspect in the Burger King slaying after detectives collected dozens of gang members' mug shots from the Los Angeles Police Department. One of the Burger King employees saw McKinney's photo and thought he looked like the gunman.
McKinney was several inches shorter than the man described by witnesses. He walked with a limp; the shooter did not. But at McKinney's trial in 1982, four witnesses identified him as the killer.
"About the only way to bring in better evidence is if we had a movie of it," said Tony Rackauckas, then a deputy Orange County district attorney.
McKinney was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery. Rackauckas asked for the death penalty, but the jury deadlocked and McKinney was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
He spent the next 18 years in five California prisons, including Folsom and San Quentin. He attempted suicide, contracted tuberculosis and twice was stabbed by fellow inmates.
He passed the time reading western novels by Louis L'Amour. He found religion and earned his high school equivalency degree.
In 1999, two inmates gave statements admitting that they were involved in the Burger King robbery and asserting that McKinney had been wrongly convicted. They identified another man, a career criminal, as the killer.
Investigators with the public defender's office contacted two of the trial witnesses whose testimony had helped put McKinney behind bars. Shown a photo of the man implicated by the prisoners, the witnesses said that he -- not McKinney -- was the gunman.
After an investigation, Rackauckas, by then Orange County district attorney, agreed that McKinney should be freed. A judge threw out the conviction.
On Jan. 28, 2000, McKinney walked out of the state prison in Lancaster without a driver's license, a Social Security number, a change of clothes or a toothbrush.
Because he had been serving a life term, the state did nothing to prepare him for freedom. Job training would have been considered a waste of money.
McKinney said he would have been happy to work as a janitor and live in a cheap motel. He had no expectations. But he was not a broken man. In prison, he had made a promise to himself.
"I always said if I was given an opportunity, I'd take advantage," he said.
Faith Sustained Him
He moved into a Costa Mesa apartment provided by the owner of a drug counseling center who had been touched by his story. New friends from the public defender's office helped him get a job operating audio-visual equipment at a UC Irvine lecture hall.
McKinney became a celebrity on the Christian lecture circuit, holding audiences spellbound with his story of how faith sustained him during his years of confinement.
He praised Rackauckas for admitting that a wrong had been done, and even endorsed the district attorney's reelection bid in 2002. He accepted a tearful apology from the judge who sent him to prison for life. He reconnected with a son born shortly after he went to prison. He became a grandfather. He fell in love and got married.
In the summer of 2002, the city of Orange paid $1.7 million to settle McKinney's lawsuit against its Police Department and the detective who built the case against him.