DeWayne McKinney, who spent nearly two decades in prison for an Orange County, Calif., murder he insisted he did not commit and went on to start a multimillion-dollar business in the Hawaiian islands, was killed early Tuesday in a scooter accident in Honolulu, authorities said.
McKinney made national news in 2000 after Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas obtained his release from prison, saying he had been wrongly convicted of a 1980 robbery-murder at a Burger King in Orange, Calif.
The 47-year-old McKinney crashed into a wooden light pole at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday and was thrown onto the pavement, said Caroline Sluyter, a spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department. McKinney, who was not wearing a helmet, died at a local hospital.
McKinney had parlayed a $1 million legal settlement with the Orange Police Department into a multimillion-dollar automated teller machine business on the Hawaiian islands and had been in discussions with movie studio executives about turning his life story into a feature film.
In the years after his release from prison, McKinney spoke frequently at anti-death penalty conferences. Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty for McKinney, but instead he was sentenced to life in prison without parole after jurors deadlocked in the penalty portion of his trial.
When he was released from prison in January 2000, McKinney was forced to start his life from scratch. He didn’t have a driver’s license, Social Security number, savings or a place to live.
On weekends, McKinney spoke to church groups about how his faith carried him through more than 19 years in prison. He said he wasn’t angry at the system that put him away and later supported the re-election campaign of Rackauckas, the man who convicted him and then set him free.
“He had a really beautiful soul. He really did,” said Denise Gragg, an assistant public defender who successfully obtained McKinney’s release from prison. “The most amazing thing about him was the lack of anger he had when he came out. … He really was one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
McKinney spent months searching for business ideas after receiving the financial settlement from the city of Orange, before settling on investing in the ATM industry. He bought dozens of the banking machines and installed them in bars, restaurants and shopping malls in Hawaii, making huge profits from customers’ convenience fees.
At the time of his death, McKinney owned 42 ATMs on three Hawaiian islands and had a net worth of more than $6 million, said Carl Stein, who owned a company that processed transactions for McKinney.
“To spend 19 years in prison and get out and do what he did, it was amazing,” Stein said. “He had this way with people. They just couldn’t say no to him.”