Along with three other co-defendants, Ron Keine was convicted of the kidnappying and murder of University of New Mexico student William Velten in 1974. He was sentenced to death in New Mexico.
A subsequent investigation by the Detroit News uncovered a bizarre campaign by prosecutors to coerce testimony from a motel maid named Judy Weyer, whom they wanted to be their star witness. Theorizing that the murder had taken place at the motel, police first offered the young woman favorable treatment fro her boyfriend, who was in trouble with the law, if she testified against Ron and the others. Although she had made statements about a group of tenants at the motel whom she thought could be connected to the crime, when she refused to say that she knew anything about the murder itself, they threatened to charge her with perjery for the previous statements (even though perjury can only take place in court). Then, to increase the pressure on her, prosecurotrs began to implicate her boyfriend in the murder, and when she wouldn't testify that he had something to do with the crime, they booked her as an accessory to murder and threw her in jail. Eventually, she fabricated an elaborate story in which she had also been raped by the criminals then was forced to watch as they committed the heinous murder. The jury was convinced by her testimony and an execution date was set.
After prosecutors reneged on all their promises to Weyer and her boyfriend—who was sent to prison rather being freed—she fully retracted her story in a set of taped newspaper interviews. The story broke in January of 1975 and a hearing for a new trial was held. Unbelievably, the judge refused to grant a new trial, and then the taped interviews with Judy Weyer mysteriously disappeared. Ron Keine and the others remained on death row.
In the fall of 1975, Kerry Lee – the real killer of William Velten – had a religious epiphany and turned himself in for the murder. Despite his confession, thorough knowledge of the details of the crime, and an accurate hand-drawn map of where the body had been hidden, the district attorney maintained that Lee’s story was not believable and no charges were filed against him. Keine and the others did win a new trial hearing, however, and the information Lee provided, plus the recovery of the murder weapon, finally resulted in the granting of a new trial.
The new trial was never held. In December of 1975, Judge Philip Biaimonte quashed the murder indictments, having concluded that ballistics tests definitively linked the murder weapon to the confessed killer, who was tried and convicted in 1978. Ron Keine and the other three men were exonerated and set free.
After his release, Ron returned to Michigan and became a successful businessman and was active in local politics. His transition, however, was not easy. “It was hard to find a job,” Ron says. “I found that people read the headlines but not the whole story. They just knew that I’d been ‘involved’ in a murder. I had employers tell me they couldn't hire me because I'd be bad for employee morale and scare the women,” he said.
Ron is a strong leader in the anti-death penalty movement and an active participant in Witness to Innocence. Ron currently lives outside of Detroit, where he owns his own business. Ron has been on the Larry King Show, various radio talk shows and a 2007 PBS documentary. Most recently, Ron was published internationally, featured in a scholarly publication of the University of Cincinnati College of Law and honored by the Texas House of Representatives. He feels it is important to tell his story of death row to educate others. “I used to have faith in the American justice system. Now I know it's corrupt and broken. I don't believe the government should kill people.”