DeWayne McKinney, whose journey from falsely convicted prisoner to self-made millionaire inspired thousands, died yesterday in a moped accident in Honolulu.
While riding along Waialae Avenue, McKinney, who wasn't wearing a helmet, hit a bus stop sign and utility pole around 12:38 a.m. Police said speed may have been a factor in the crash but not alcohol, which McKinney has struggled with in the past. Just 47 years old, McKinney was pronounced dead at The Queen's Medical Center.
After serving nearly two decades in prison for a murder that he didn't commit, McKinney had resurrected his life after leaving prison without money, clothes or a home. Eventually, he became a millionaire businessman.
"20/20" profiled McKinney in May, to find out how he accomplished so much after such a horrific ordeal.
Forgiveness might not be the first quality that comes to mind, but McKinney said it was a key ingredient.
McKinney lived in a 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 had 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.
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.
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.