Ray Krone grew up near York, Pennsylvania, with a loving family and many friends. A former Boy Scout and high school athlete, he became an Air Force sergeant and later a mail carrier before finding himself on Arizona’s death row for a murder he did not commit.
His world was turned upside down in 1991 when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar where Ray was an occasional customer.
Ray refused to believe that our legal system would convict him. He told his parents not to worry. Given the choice to sell his house to cover lawyers’ fees, Ray instead opted to be represented by a public defender, thinking “Why should I sell my house when they’re going to know it’s not me as soon as they investigate?”
But Ray was convicted. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth. In 1992, he was sentenced to death.
Yet Ray refused to give up and continued to fight through the appeals process. In 1994 he was granted a retrial, but was convicted again based on the same evidence. The judge knew the bite mark data was weak, and reduced Ray’s life sentence to 46 years in prison. However, at the age of 35, this was essentially a life sentence. During Ray’s two years and eight months on death row, the state of Arizona executed three other men.
Yet his appeals continued. In 2002, with the help of attorney Alan Simpson, he convinced an appeals court that DNA found at the murder scene indicated the guilt of another man, Kenneth Phillips. When prosecutors dropped the charges that April, Ray became the 100th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973. His life was put on hold during ten years and four months behind bars. He had never surfed the Internet, didn’t know how to use a cell phone, and had never heard of gel deodorant.
Ironically enough, in some ways Ray was lucky. Unlike nearly every other prisoner on death row, he had financial support from his second cousin, Jim Rix. Jim personally spent more than $100,000 to pay Ray’s legal fees. Ray also had the benefit of DNA evidence, which is available in only about 15 percent of cases.
Today, Ray has to work to avoid bitterness regarding his experience. “I have the ability to be angry, but I’ve tried to avoid the anger,” he says. “I sat in prison all that time, and I watched people who were so bitter and angry that they became victims. At some point you’ve got to take control of your life and rise above things. I hope I won’t ever get to the point where I am so overwhelmed with grief and tragedy that I would actually give in.”
Now 51, Ray spends time with friends and family, and devotes his life to improving the criminal justice system that failed him. He has traveled throughout the United States and Europe, telling his story to audiences that invariably are profoundly moved by the ordeal he survived. Ray has spoken to hundreds of groups, including numerous universities and law schools across the country, as well as to state legislatures and governmental bodies in England, Sweden, Italy and France. He has been featured in numerous publications and on many radio and television programs, including People and Parade magazines, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and Good MorningAmerica.
“I would not trust the state to execute a person for committing a crime against another person,” he says. “I know how the system works. I know what prison is like, I know what the judges are like, and I know what the prosecutors are like. It’s not about justice or fairness or equality. It’s absolutely wrong. Any chance I can, whether I start with one or two people or a whole auditorium filled with people, I’ll tell them what happened to me. Because if it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.”