From Prison to Prosperity, Against All Odds

DeWayne McKinney got out of prison without money, clothes or a home, but today he is a millionaire businessman. How did he do it? Forgiveness might not be the first quality that comes to mind, but McKinney says it was a key ingredient.

Today you'll find McKinney in his 10,000-square-foot Hawaiian waterfront home, filled with all the trappings of the good life. It's very different from the prison cell where he spent nearly two decades.

Although he often dreamed of a world outside the walls during the long years he spent in California prison cellblocks, McKinney said, "I never could have imagined it would turn out quite like this."

McKinney's road to prison began on the streets of South Central Los Angeles. As a young boy he lived happily in a modest home where he said he was a shy and obedient kid who worshiped his mother, a single parent.


"I like to refer to myself as a mama's boy," he said of his younger self.

McKinney worried about his mother constantly, because she had a heart condition. He was 12 years old when his worst fear became reality: His mother died. He was devastated by her death.

Life on the Streets, Then a New 'Family'

McKinney went to live with various relatives, but, he said, "I rejected anyone that tried to replace her." The sheltered young mama's boy soon found himself living on the streets.

"I was running the streets in Los Angeles, tired and hungry, and this family invited me in," McKinney said.


That family, however, was a gang known as the 52nd Street Crips. By 15, McKinney was one of them, and crime was part of his lifestyle.

He was arrested for car theft and also jailed for attempted robbery. When he was 19, in November 1980, he was shot in the leg by a rival gang in what he said was one of the first drive-by shootings in Los Angeles' notorious South Central neighborhood.

In December 1980, McKinney's life took a turn for the worse. He was pulled over for a routine traffic violation, but what happened next was anything but routine. McKinney was accused of a much more serious crime: first degree murder.

A night manager at a Southern California Burger King had been murdered during a robbery, and McKinney's picture had been picked out of a photo lineup by witnesses at the scene.

A Brutal Scene, and a Denial

Twenty-five years ago, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was the young deputy district attorney assigned to the Burger King case. Armed with eyewitness testimony, he never doubted McKinney was the cold-blooded assailant sought for the killing.

"The people who were put into a meat cooler by the assailant, and looked at him, told me that was him," Rackauckas said.

Rackauckas went on to describe the horrible scene that faced the surviving Burger King workers. When they emerged from the meat cooler, Rackauckas said, "They saw the young manager there with his head on his desk in a pool of blood."

Rackauckas asked the jury to make McKinney pay with his own life.

But McKinney was nowhere near the Burger King that night, and even presented witnesses who had seen him elsewhere during the time of the robbery. McKinney tried to point out that his injured leg would have made it impossible for him to leap over the restaurant counter, as witnesses described.

But, he said, "No matter how loud I yelled or how loud I screamed, no one really heard me because my lifestyle basically said just the opposite."

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