Wrongfully convicted Missouri man awarded $15.5 million

Friday, July 22, 2011 | 7:48 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — A man who spent several years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of molesting his stepdaughter said Friday he has reached a $15.5 million settlement with Lee's Summit.

Ted White was freed in 2005 after a federal court determined his estranged wife and the detective investigating the case were having an affair and conspired to get White convicted on false charges.

White, now 49 and living in the Salt Lake City area with his new wife and young daughter, said at a news conference in Kansas City that he hoped the settlement would bring about changes in the criminal justice system.

"We, as citizens, have to stand up for our rights even when people try and abuse the system to their own benefit," White said.

White's attorneys had been fighting to get Lee's Summit to pay the $16 million a federal jury awarded in 2008 after finding that former detective Richard McKinley and White's ex-wife, now Tina McKinley, conspired to violate White's right to a fair trial. In exchange for being dropped from that lawsuit, the city of Lee's Summit agreed to pay White any judgment against McKinley.

Later, the city claimed a local ordinance forbid it from indemnifying a city employee who violates someone's constitutional rights. Meanwhile, interest on the judgment had been growing at a rate of $27,000 per month.

Lee's Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads said in a statement that the city is "hopeful that this settlement provides closure for Mr. White and his family."

The 13-year legal battle began in 1998 after White's then-wife made the molestation claims while the couple was separated. After his 1999 conviction, but before sentencing, White fled to Costa Rica, where he stayed for several months before being captured and brought back to Missouri. He was sentenced to 50 years behind bars.

While in prison, his attorneys discovered White's wife was having an affair with McKinley while he was investigating the case. McKinley, who no longer works for the Lee's Summit Police Department, failed to disclose the relationship to the court and also didn't take into evidence the stepdaughter's diary, even though it might have helped White's defense.

White won a new trial that ended in a hung jury in 2004. By then, White's family was running out of money, so Larry Stewart, a secret Santa who gave away more than $1 million to strangers each December in mostly $100 bills, helped pay White's attorney to continue his defense. White was exonerated in 2005 after a third trial.

A federal jury in 2008 awarded White $16 million — $14 million in assessed damages and $1 million each from Richard and Tina McKinley in punitive damages.

Tina McKinley's homeowners insurance policy paid $600,000 toward her share, money that White said went mainly toward attorney fees. He also received roughly $363,000 in January from one of the city's insurance carriers.

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