Phipps, or “Mac,” as his fans know him, has served 21 years of a 30-year sentence in the shooting death of a teenage fan at a concert in Slidell, Louisiana, in 2000. Phipps, 22 at the time, has always maintained he was not involved in the crime. Supporting his claim is another man’s confession to the shooting, which was discounted by prosecutors; a key witness who recanted her testimony in 2015, revealing she was coerced by the district attorney; four other witnesses at the nightclub who said they were threatened or ignored by authorities; and the use of his lyrics against him at trial, among other flaws in his conviction highlighted by a series of HuffPost investigative reports in 2015.
“We are nearing the finish line in a long fought battle in securing McKinley’s freedom,” his wife, Angelique Phipps, said in a statement to HuffPost. “While he still has the upcoming parole hearing and no definitive release date, we are relieved, grateful, and looking forward to the future.”
The governor’s office confirmed Thursday evening that Phipps had been granted clemency.
On Feb. 22, Phipps appeared before the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, which voted unanimously that he be made eligible immediately for parole. The governor’s office reviewed the recommendation in March.
“As you are likely aware, many clemency applications are submitted each year and only a small number are approved. This letter is to inform you that I have granted your application,” the governor wrote in a March 29 letter addressed to Phipps, obtained by HuffPost. “I congratulate you on your efforts to turn your life around and remind you that it is up to you to make the most out of this opportunity.”
The Louisiana Constitution gives the governor power to grant clemency, including in the form of a pardon or commutation. Phipps must appear before the parole board once more before receiving a release date. That hearing is set for June 22.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office told HuffPost on March 22 that “clemency is something the governor takes very seriously.”
“Each file received by his office is extensive and is given a very thoughtful and thorough review,” the spokesperson said.
A clemency grant recognizes a person’s efforts in self-development. It does not exonerate Phipps. However, his attorney Stanton Jones has started a legal effort that could reverse his conviction, based on a separate issue involving his 2001 trial.
Phipps was convicted by a divided jury. Louisiana was one of two states that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts at the time. In any other state besides Oregon, the split verdict alone would have resulted in a hung jury and retrial.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that non-unanimous jury verdicts ― a law with deeply racist origins ― are unconstitutional nationwide. The court is expected to decide by the end of June if that decision applies retroactively.
Phipps’ attorney filed a post-conviction relief application in March based on last year’s ruling. Pending the decision, he may be able to reverse the conviction and have the case tossed out.