Ray Krone (right) leaves prison with lawyer Christopher Plourd. Photo: ap/wide world photos.
Ray Krone was raised in Dover, Pa., where friends of his were members of Heidelberg UCC in nearby York. In 1992, when he was convicted of murder in Arizona and sentenced to death, these friends stood by him. They shared his story with the congregation and put his name on the prayer list. Last year, Krone was released from prison, the 100th innocent person in the United States since 1973 to be released for a crime that put him on death row. He returned to Pennsylvania to visit his family and friends, including a visit to the church. In November, the president of the church's consistery, Dan Powers, arranged for Krone to meet in Cleveland with the UCC Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Here is an abridged version of his remarks to that group.
I know what it's like to sit inside those cages on death row and hear the noise of those bars closing each day, knowing you're never going to get to hug your mom or see your brother or sister or your dad. Here's how I know.
After six years in the air force, my last assignment was in Phoenix. I liked it, so I stayed there and became a mailman. Life was good to me. Then one day two suited gentlemen walked up my driveway. They asked me if I knew Kim Ancona. I said, "No."
"You don't know Kim Ancona from the ABC Lounge?"
Then I said, "Oh yeah, I know a Kim who's a bartender there, but I don't know her last name."
They looked funny at each other. "Well, you're her boyfriend, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not her boyfriend. What's this about?"
Never been in trouble
That's when they told me she had been murdered the night before, stabbed four or five times. They took me downtown and questioned me for three hours. They had me take my clothes off so they could look for any scratches. They took my fingerprints and photographs of me. They also had something that looked like two Styrofoam plates, and they had me bite into it.
Two days after the killing, I was in jail—arrested for murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in Kim Ancona's death. I'd never been in trouble in my life.
They gave me a court-appointed attorney and gave him $5,000 to represent me in a capital case. He saw me two or three times, then my trial lasted eight days. That Styrofoam thing I bit into, that impression they took, that was their evidence. There was a bite mark on her breast. They paid a bite expert over $50,000 and he identified that mark as belonging to my teeth.
They had fingerprints, they had footprints, they had hair, they had other evidence, but none of it pointed to me. They used only this bite mark from the expert.
Low point of my life
So in 1992, I was convicted and sentenced to death. That was probably the low point of my life, the deprivations, the horrors, the violence, the assaults, the loneliness.
Then a miracle happened. A distant relative in California learned that he had a cousin on death row in Arizona. He was shocked. But he was also intrigued and he got the trial transcripts. Then he came to meet me on death row. After two hours, he said, "I believe you and I'm going to do everything I can for you."
The first thing he did was talk to other bite mark experts. He took some of the pictures from my case. They all said, "No way. It doesn't match. Krone didn't do it."
This was wonderful news. Then he hired an attorney to start post-conviction relief based on new evidence.
That trial lasted six and a half weeks. Over 500 exhibits were introduced, 30 experts were there including FBI experts, and we had three bite mark experts for my defense. The DNA swabs came back from the bite mark on her bare breast, and it was not my DNA.
Even so, the jury found me guilty. At my sentencing hearing, my attorney spent three hours going over every piece of evidence that pointed to another person. Fifty sets of fingerprints from the crime scene. The murder weapon. The used paper towels. The clean prints from the paper towel holder. Clean prints right off the sink. Some hairs found at the scene of the crime that matched the genetic background of an American Indian.
Bible went with me
But the judge wrote that there was "lingering, residual doubt of my guilt" and sentenced me to 25-to-life. So off I went again to serve my life sentence in prison. This is the Bible that went with me to death row. It was under my pillow. I've read this Bible through three times. These are some of the passages I'd mark when I would read something would motivate me.
I tried to stay strong, but it wasn't looking too good. Finally, the Lord persuaded the judge to grant our motion to do some more DNA testing.
The clothing the victim was wearing was never tested. Can you believe this? In a rape case, the police never tested the pants, the underwear, the shoes she was wearing.
Nationwide data bank
This judge ordered DNA testing done by the Phoenix Police Department. That made me nervous at first, but the beneficial thing was that police departments have access to DNA data banks across the country. When they plugged their DNA into the data bank, it came back with a match to an American Indian who lived about 500 yards from the bar. He was currently serving 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a teenager three weeks after the murder.
My investigator taped an interview with him. In it he admitted to being in the bar and having an argument about being allowed to use the bathroom. He also admitted to waking up with blood on his hands and wondering what he might have done.
Finally, after 10 years, four months, eight days and a few odd hours, I walked out of that prison. Now my life changed again. I was on CNN, the O'Reilly Factor, MSNBC, Australia radio, BBC, CBC.
One day a man asked me, "Given your faith in God, how do you justify him leaving you in prison for 10 years?"
I was fresh out of prison, where conversations are four-letter words strung endlessly together and here's a man asking me a philosophical question. I was dumbfounded!
Told me what to say
Just in that blank instance, something told me what to say. And I said to him, "Maybe it's not about those 10-and-a-half years I spent in prison; maybe it's about the next 10-and-ahalf years. Maybe this is what I'm supposed to do."
That's what I believe. It had to have come from above. It took a few days for me to realize that yes, that has to be what I'm supposed to do.
I can't support the death penalty. There's nothing good about it, period. I know. I've seen it. I'm going to fight against it for as long as I have breath in me.
The Lord will provide help, but I'm going to need a few of you, too.
For information about the UCC Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, contact:
The Rev. Sala Nolan
For more information on the death penalty, go to:
Death Penalty Information Center
American Civil Liberties Union