A businessman who spent several years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of molesting his stepdaughter said Friday that he has reached a $15.5 settlement with the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit.
Ted White was freed in 2005 after a federal court determined that 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 toddler 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,” said White, who occasionally cried as he spoke. “This abuse ran rampant in my case and should have never been allowed to happen.”
He said his parents mortgaged their farm to help pay for his defense and that he planned to drive to the southwest Missouri town of Aurora on Saturday to “make them whole.” White, who lost contact with his three older children after his arrest, also said the door is open for them to reunite.
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.
The settlement covers claims against the city and its former police chief, Kenneth Conlee, who allegedly knew about the affair. Lee’s Summit said in a statement that the indemnification ordinance that would have made it unlawful to pay such a settlement was enacted after a management agreement with Conlee was signed.
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 statement said that the money will be paid out of the city’s financial reserves and that the city will seek reimbursement from its insurance policies.
White’s attorney, Brian McCallister, said it’s still possible for the city to go after Richard McKinley.
Robert Weeks, who was so frustrated over the city’s handling of the case that he made an unsuccessful run for the City Council in Lee’s Summit, showed up at the news conference with signs that read “Stop the Bleeding” and “Above the Law.”
“They acted like he wasn’t a human being,” Weeks complained.
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 he was in prison, his attorneys discovered that White’s wife was having an affair with McKinley while he was investigating the case. McKinley, who no longer works for the 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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