Phipps, or “Mac,” as his fans know him, served 21 years of a 30-year sentence in the shooting death of a teenager at a concert in Slidell, Louisiana, in 2000. Phipps, 22 years at the time, has always maintained that he was not involved in the crime. Another man’s confession to the shooting, which was dismissed by prosecutors, supports his claim; a key witness who retracted her testimony in 2015, revealing that she had been coerced by the public prosecutor; four other witnesses from the nightclub who said they had been threatened or ignored by the authorities; and the use of his words against him at trial, among other flaws in his conviction highlighted by a series of HuffPost investigative reports in 2015.
“We are approaching the finish line in a long battle to secure McKinley’s freedom,” his wife, Angelique Phipps, said in a statement to HuffPost. “Although he still has the next parole hearing and no final release date, we are relieved, grateful and look forward to the future.”
The governor’s office confirmed Thursday evening that Phipps had obtained clemency.
On February 22, Phipps appeared before the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, which voted unanimously be immediately eligible for parole. The governor’s office reviewed the recommendation in March.
“As you probably know, there are many requests for pardons submitted each year and only a small number are approved. This letter is to inform you that I have granted your request, ”the governor wrote in a March 29 letter to Phipps obtained by HuffPost. “I congratulate you on your efforts to change your life and remind you that it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”
The Louisiana Constitution gives the governor the power to grant clemency, including in the form of pardon or commutation. Phipps must appear before the parole board again before being given a release date. This hearing is set for June 22.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office told HuffPost on March 22 that “leniency is something the governor takes very seriously.”
“Every case received by his office is extensive and undergoes a very thoughtful and thorough review,” said the spokesperson.
A leniency grant recognizes a person’s efforts in personal development. It does not exempt Phipps. However, his lawyer Stanton Jones has launched a legal effort that could overturn his conviction, based on a separate issue involving his 2001 trial.
Phipps was sentenced by a divided jury. Louisiana was one of two states at the time that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts. In any state other than Oregon, the split verdict alone would have resulted in a suspended jury and a new trial.
The United States Supreme Court ruled last year that the non-unanimous jury verdicts – a law with deeply racist origins – are unconstitutional across the country. The court is expected to decide by the end of June whether this ruling applies retroactively.
Phipps’ attorney filed for post-conviction relief in March based on last year’s ruling. While awaiting the decision, he may be able to overturn the conviction and have the case dismissed.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost