Former death row inmate Krone speaks against death penalty
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“As a child, I was fascinated with the story of Jonah. He was swallowed by a whale, surrounded by darkness, and stuck in a constant state of fear. How did he survive?”
Ray Krone would ruminate years later about the biblical story — and with good reason. “I got swallowed into the belly of the whale, the justice system,” Krone told an audience at Maryville College Wednesday.
In 1992, Krone was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping and given the death penalty. He was innocent.
On Dec. 29, 1991, police discovered a female bartender’s body in the men’s restroom of a Phoenix, Ariz., bar. She had been stabbed to death.
Investigators discovered no signs of a break-in and no signs of a robbery. They initiated an investigation based upon the assumption that the murderer knew the victim.
One employee mentioned Krone, who drank at the bar with his friends and played on sports teams sponsored by the business. “She likes him.”
Police visited Krone at his home, asked him a few questions and took him to the police station.
Investigators grilled the patron for three hours. Why’d he kill her? Why wouldn’t he admit that he was dating the victim?
They also took his fingerprints and mugshot. They made him bite into a Styrofoam cup, creating a teeth impression to compare the results against a mark on the victim’s breast and neck.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” said Krone, in front of an at-capacity crowd gathered at the Maryville College Center for Campus Ministry. “I was in bed at the time (of the murder). My roommate knew that I never left.”
Police later served the bar patron with a search warrant, demanding blood samples, dental casts and hair samples. They made two casts of his lower and upper teeth, pulled hair from all over his body, and removed blood from both arms.
Investigators continued to grill Krone and urged him to make a confession. The patron eventually told them off.
“My honor and integrity was important to me,” Krone said. “I was 35 years old, and my integrity was pretty much set by then.”
He had served six years in the U.S. Air Force, obtaining a top-secret clearance. He’d also served seven years as a U.S. Post Office letter carrier. He wondered why the police couldn’t see his innocence.
Krone was soon placed into custody and taken to jail. “It didn’t take me long to find out I was around a whole bunch of people I wasn’t going to like. While I was in there, I believed they were continuing their investigation and were going to find out that I was innocent. That day soon became days. Days became one week. One week became weeks. Weeks became months.”
Krone’s journey didn’t get any easier. He was told that he’d have to pay about $100,000 for his defense. So, he opted for a public defender.
The public defender told Krone that he could expect to be found guilty. However, they’d “get it on appeal.”
Krone then exchanged some strong words with the public defender. She later recused herself, citing a conflict of interest.
The inmate eventually got a court-appointed attorney, who received $5,000 to defend him. “You can’t even got a divorce for $5,000. I got exactly what they paid for: nothing. He didn’t look at anything. He didn’t call any witnesses.”
Krone’s trial was 3½ days, and the jury required only 3½ hours to render two guilty verdicts. A judge later sentenced him to death.
The death row inmate found strength in the stories of Jonah and Job, a man who loses everything through a series of disasters. He also spent a lot of time in the law library, learning about the system that failed him.
The Arizona Supreme Court later overturned Krone’s conviction and ordered another trial. The inmate’s second trial in 1996 lasted 6½ weeks, and the jury required 3½ days to render guilty to two verdicts. He was sentenced to 46 years in prison.
“It was a death sentence,” Krone said. “I might not get a lethal cocktail shot in my arm, but I wasn’t getting out. I was 35 years old when I was first convicted, so you do the math. Not to mention, I’d been through a number of riots. I’d been stabbed numerous times. That’s just how it is.”
Exonerated in 2002
In 2002, Krone was exonerated after DNA testing was ordered on the victim’s clothing. Investigators discovered that a man who was incarcerated on an unrelated sex crime was the perpetrator. The man, who had lived a short distance from the bar where the victim worked, was never considered a suspect in the woman’s murder.
After spending 10 years, three months and eight days in prison, Krone was a free man. He was also the 100th death row inmate to be exonerated.
Krone received a considerable amount of media attention. “They’d been keeping track of their mistakes, and apparently No. 100 is more important than No. 99 or No. 98.”
He answered a number of question upon his release, but one question stumped the believer. “How do you justify God leaving you in prison?”
“I was at a loss for words, which is very rare,” Krone said. “Then something poured out of me. ‘Maybe it wasn’t about those 10 years. Maybe it’s about the next 10 years.’”
Since his release, Krone has dedicated his life to abolishing capital punishment. He’s spoken throughout the United States and Europe, appearing before hundreds of groups, state legislatures and government bodies. He’s shared his story with People, Parade, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Good Morning America, BBC and Investigative Discovery Channel.
Krone further serves as Witness to Innocence’s director of membership and training. He co-founded the organization, which is the nation’s only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty.