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Man wrongfully convicted won't give up fight against Lee's Summit

Sunday, August 22, 2010 | 5:32 p.m. CDT; updated 6:33 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 22, 2010
In this July 22 photo, Ted White Jr. looks around at the dozens of his supporters at City Hall in Lee's Summit, near Kansas City. White spent five years in prison on child sexual abuse charges before being acquitted in 2005. He was awarded $16 million in 2008 after a federal jury determined a Lee's Summit police detective lied and manipulated evidence in the case because he was the secret lover of White's estranged wife. However, the city of Lee's Summit hasn't paid the judgment, as it originally agreed to.

LEE'S SUMMIT — After Ted White Jr. was wrongfully convicted of molesting his 12-year-old stepdaughter, his parents poured everything they had into clearing their son's name.

When he won his freedom after finding out that the detective who led the sex-abuse investigation was his estranged wife's secret lover, White wanted someone to pay — to pay the legal bills and to pay for what he went through during his nearly six years behind bars.

Now, more than five years after his release, he's still waiting for the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit to do what it once promised — pay the multimillion-dollar court judgment against former Detective Richard McKinley.

The city doesn't deny signing a 2006 agreement saying it would pay any judgment against McKinley in exchange for White dropping Lee's Summit and its police chief from his civil lawsuit alleging they had violated several of his constitutional rights.

Instead, Lee's Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads says the city can't pay the $16 million judgment — upheld in July by a federal appeals court — because a local ordinance bars it from indemnifying a city employee who violates another person's constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, White says, his parents are the ones who are suffering. His father, a 71-year-old optometrist in southwest Missouri, has suffered at least two heart attacks since 1999 but can't retire.

"My dad lost his retirement, but no one has ever apologized. They're saying, 'We don't care about you, your family, the money you spent to defend your honor.' That's just not right," said White, who said the legal fees, including for his civil suit, totaled about $1 million.

In a written statement, Rhoads accused White and his lawyers of trying to stir up public pressure on city officials to make "a decision that is not legally permitted at this time."

Other than that July 22 statement from Rhoads, city officials have been tightlipped. City spokeswoman Melissa Fears told The Associated Press that nobody with the city wanted to comment.

Messages left with the city's attorney, as well as lawyers representing McKinley and White's ex-wife, who has since married McKinley, were not returned.

White's ordeal began in March 1998, when he came home from a camping trip and was met with accusations from his wife that he had molested his stepdaughter.

After his 1999 conviction, he fled to Costa Rica while awaiting sentencing. Once captured, he fought extradition because, he said, he didn't have the money to keep fighting the allegations.

That's when his father told him he would sell everything he had to help White.

"That was touching," said White, now 48. "It was an inspirational moment to see how much my dad cared for me."

White was sentenced to 50 years in prison, where he faced violent convicts who revile child molesters. Inmates came after him with knives, he said. Once, he said, a prisoner beat him with a padlock, crushing his eye socket.

"I had to live every day and survive every day with a rap sheet that says I have 12 counts against me," White said. "Even murderers have kids."

White's attorneys eventually discovered the relationship between White's wife, Tina, and McKinley — something McKinley had failed to disclose to the court. Court documents also reveal that McKinley didn't take into evidence the stepdaughter's diary — even though it might have helped White's defense — and interviewed the girl before a state social worker could.

White won a new trial that ended with a hung jury in 2004. Finally, after a third trial, White was exonerated in 2005.

In 2008, a federal jury determined that McKinley and White's wife had conspired to send White to prison on false charges. The jury awarded White $14 million in assessed damages and $1 million each from Tina and Richard McKinley in punitive damages.

Tina McKinley's homeowner's insurance policy paid $600,000 toward her share — money White said went mainly toward legal bills.

White's attorneys are asking a judge to force the city to pay Richard McKinley's share. Otherwise, White may sue for breach of contract.

One of White's attorneys, Mike Kanovitz, called the city's claim that it can't pay rubbish.

"This is an embarrassment to the city to have a cop who did this," Kanovitz said. "They'd rather it disappear, but when the civil rights judgment happened, it didn't disappear."

Since prison, White has remarried, had a daughter and now works as an insurance executive in Utah.

But his father, Theodore White Sr., continues to struggle.

"It's been devastating — there's no other word that can describe it," White Sr. said. "It's bankrupted us, taken all of our retirement, it's lowered my business. You have no idea how many endless nights I couldn't sleep trying to think what was going to happen. You just cannot believe how this can wreck your life, especially when this started at 60 and I'm 71 now.

"You know what? I'd do it all over again."


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Comments

Mark Flakne August 22, 2010 | 7:47 p.m.

“Attention, citizen. We are the government and we do what we want.”

(Report Comment)
tom kelly August 22, 2010 | 10:03 p.m.

White's attorney is right.
No Barney Fife local ordinance makes a city official exempt from anything. The Federal Appeals Court is wrong too, probably paid off. Take it to the Supreme Court, you can't lose.
You have more self control than I ever could. I would have shot everyone including the city official.

(Report Comment)

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