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Ray Krone: Decade on death row

It’s my please to introduce you to Ray Krone, a man who served ten long years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Ray was … well, I think I’ll sit back and post Ray’s tale as he told it to me. The floor is yours, my friend.

Ray Krone

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Cheryl read a novel by Polly Iyer about a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder, released, and then framed for a series of murders. As with all good fiction, there were elements of fact in this story. Polly’s description of the impact of wrongful convictions struck a chord with Cheryl, and she sent Polly an email saying so. That email started an exchange that led to me posting on this blog today.

My story isn’t much of a mystery, but it has twists and turns that wouldn’t make it past a fiction editor’s red pencil. Lee thought that it might be of interest to you, so here goes. I’m not a professional writer but I hope that I’ll be able to provide some useful insights into the ripples that result from sloppy police work, ineffective defense counsel, and overzealous prosecutors.

I won’t go into details about my life prior to my arrest and wrongful conviction. It was unremarkable as most lives are, except to the people who live them. I sang in the church choir, was a Boy Scout, and played team sports throughout my school years. I was never in any trouble, never even had detention in school. I grew up in a small town, joined the Air Force, and following my Honorable Discharge remained in Phoenix, AZ, my last duty station. I got a job with the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier.

Ray before his arrest for a crime he didn’t commit

At 35, I was single and living the good life. My salary allowed me to buy my own home and have lots of big boy toys—sand rail, Corvette, swimming pool. I had a loving family back in PA, and loyal friends all over the country. Little did I know that I was about to find out just how important those people were.

I’d always enjoyed team sports, and still do. A bar in my neighborhood sponsored volleyball and dart teams, and I played on both. On December 29, 1991, the owner found his night manager, Kim Ancona, on the men’s room floor. She’d been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. A co-worker told police detectives Kim had said someone named Ray was going to help her close up that night. I had a casual acquaintance with this woman, and knew her only as a bartender and occasional dart player. She was living with a man and as far as I was concerned, that was as good as married and made her off-limits.

Detectives found my name and phone number in her address book and came to see me. It’s important to note at this point that my name and phone number were not in my handwriting or in Kim’s. How they got there remains a mystery to this day. I was questioned by the Phoenix Police, and cooperated—until I realized they were trying to pin this murder on me.  The legal wrangling is public record—you can Google my name and read countless stories about my case.

Being the one hundredth person to be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die, only to be found factually innocent after spending years on Death Row and in prison, put me on the radar of a society that was beginning to question the value of capital punishment. My conviction was based solely on bite mark evidence. Because I refused to show remorse for a crime I didn’t commit, I was sentenced to death. After almost three years on Death Row, I was granted a new trial. I was again convicted, and sentenced to 23 years for the kidnapping, and 25 years to life for the murder. Only a random series of events would free me. Court-ordered DNA would finally free me and identify the real killer. I spent a total of ten years, three months and eight days in prison for something I didn’t do. I was 35 when arrested and 45 when I was exonerated.

Ray as an inmate at Arizona State Prison in Yuma

The life events that other people take for granted were stolen from me, and no amount of money, sympathy or accolades will ever give me a chance to experience them. They are gone forever. Am I bitter? I try not to be—the family and friends who stood by me have helped me adjust and appreciate what I do have. I try not to focus on what I’ve been denied in this life, but what I’ve been given. I’ve learned the hardest way possible the true meaning of “you find out who your friends are.” Despite the love and support of friends and family, I still have moments when I feel rage at what happened to me, even after more than ten years of freedom.

Billboard on I-83 in Harrisburg, Pa.

There have been millions of words written and hundreds of television shows about the impact on men and women who were sentenced to die for a crime they didn’t commit. There are well-documented studies about innocent men and women who were executed in the name of justice. There are other victims of a legal system that penalizes the poor and rewards prosecutors for conviction rates without examining the accuracy of those convictions.  Not just the families of the wrongfully convicted, who often lose what little they have in the defense of their loved ones, but the families of the original victim, the new victims created by the guilty party who remains free, their families, the jurors who are denied access to all of the evidence in a case. The list goes on and on—I misspoke when I called it a ripple—it’s a tsunami, wreaking havoc and destruction, and in many cases, is preventable.

I’m part of a nationally-known group called Witness to Innocence. We have only one membership requirement, but it’s a tough one. You must have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die for a crime which you did not commit. Although many of us are unable to speak publicly about what happened to us, many others find it therapeutic to do so. We have spoken in front of groups ranging from high school students to Congress to the United Nations. We share our experiences at law schools, forensics conventions and gatherings of legal professionals—anywhere that telling our stories will help provide insight, and hopefully inspiration.

The Witness to Innocence photo above is of only some of the members. Left to right: Ray Krone, Albert Burrell, Kirk Bloodsworth, Gary Drinkard, Randy Steidl, Ron Keine, Delbert Tibbs and Derek Jamison. Each of these men (and our one female member, Sabrina Porter) have stories that defy belief, as do all of the members.

I’m honored to have been invited to address the readers of this blog. For more information about Witness to Innocence, stories of exoneration or speaker’s schedules, please visit www.witnesstoinnocence.org


I’d like to say thanks to Ray for sharing his story with us here on The Graveyard Shift. As a former police detective who witnessed an execution via electric chair, well, I’m at a loss for words when I think of the possibility that an innocent person could die such a violent death at the hand of the government. Supposedly, the death penalty is carried out in the name of justice. I wonder, though, how many innocent people have been put to death based on human error? One is far too many, right?

Perhaps, though, Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia—the man who executed the serial killer I saw put to death—best put it into perspective when he said, “If I execute an innocent person, I’m no better than the people on death row.”

Givens, after executing 62 people, now strongly opposes the death penalty.


Bite-mark Evidence. Just Say NO!

Not so long ago, within the past few years, the Presidents  Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) announced that forensic bite-mark evidence is not scientifically valid, nor is it likely to ever be validated. In other words, bite-mark evidence is simply more junk science and the reasons are many. for example, skin may slip and move during decomposition, skin and flesh are not stable material—may not hold a precise pattern, etc. Patterns and injuries are also open to human interpretation, which is sometimes unreliable as it’s based on opinion, not fact.

Writers should not use bite-mark evidence in their stories, UNLESS they’re using it to create tension by falsely arresting and/or convicting a potentially innocent character.


 

Attention!

I am pleased to announce that Ray Krone will present his story at the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. Ray will discuss his case, the now-known-to-be-faulty bite-mark evidence that was used to convict him and others, exonerations through DNA, and what it was like to spend 10 years serving time on on death row, waiting to be put to death.

Ray’s is a story filled with compelling detail and emotion. It’s life-changing. It’s the precise kind of information writers need to add those extra and intricate bits of information to their tales.

Registration for this one of kind experience opens in February, 2020. Event details are coming very soon! Believe me, the workshops are amazing.

Space is limited so please register early!

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

I’m an voracious reader which means I’m rarely without a book close at hand. It’s an addiction. I have to have my word fix every day. I have books in my office, on my nightstand, in the kitchen (I sometimes read while I’m cooking dinner, between stirs and seasonings), in my truck, in bed, etc. Actually, my day ends with a bit of reading before closing my eyes to sleep.

I like different genres, especially literary and historical fiction, but a good mystery/thriller/suspense story is hard to beat. After all, who doesn’t love a well-written and convoluted whodunit?

Recently Read

I recently completed Ordinary Grace, a beautifully-told emotional tale by William Kent Krueger (highly recommended). It’s a literary novel that will linger in your mind for quite a while after devouring the final page.

Krueger’s Ordinary Grace takes us into a world where a boy becomes an adult far before his time. It’s murder, betrayal, and lies that send him on a convoluted path that bypasses what should have been a childhood filled with innocence.

And, speaking of innocence …

When Fiction and Real-Life Collide

I’m currently deep into John Grisham’s new book The Guardians, a tale about a group of lawyers who fight for the wrongly imprisoned—innocent men and women who’re serving hard time for crimes they didn’t commit. Along his journey, the lead character finds the paths leading to justice for his clients are pockmarked with danger.

The writing and voice in this novel are stellar.

As I plow through The Guardians, nearly every page reminds me of Ray Krone, a man who served 10 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Some of you may recall that Ray wrote of his horrible experience here on this blog in an article titled Ray Krone: A Decade On Death Row. 

Ray’s story and Grisham’s fictional tale run parallel to the current state of courts in the U.S., where criminal suspects, due to massive caseloads, are pushed through the system at near blinding speeds, rates that move more quickly than the science that’s often used to place them behind bars.

Bite-Mark Evidence

In Krone’s case, his conviction was based solely on bite-mark evidence, “science” that, like hair comparison, has been found to be unreliable. In fact, approximately three dozen or so exonerations have resulted from a re-examination of cases whose basis or, basis in part, for conviction were on the forensic comparison of bite marks.

For example, the cases of William Richards in California, who spent 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder, and Keith Allen Harward in Virginia, who was sentenced to 33 years behind bars for a rape and murder. And then there’s our friend Ray Krone, an innocent man who was was 35-years-old at the time of his arrest, and didn’t walk as a free man again until the age of 45. All based on what many now call junk science.

Grisham’s book is an eye-opening read. It’s also a tale that’ll keep the reader turning page after page, hoping the attorneys will find a way to have their clients’ cases re-examined (a larger than massive uphill battle). And with the turn of every page I can’t help but think of Ray’s ordeal, sitting behind bars waiting to be put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Imagine being confined in a concrete and steel box without sunshine or fresh air, with no control whatsoever of your own life and how you’ll live it. Grisham, I think, captures a great deal of this, including bite-mark evidence, in the book.

I also wonder how many more innocent people are in circumstances similar to the characters in Grisham’s book, and those who, like Ray Krone, wake up each day one step closer to the electric chair, gas chamber, or cocktail of drugs designed to kill. And, even more horrible is to wonder not if, but how many innocent people have already been executed.


 

“Cullen Post travels the country fighting wrongful convictions and taking on clients forgotten by the system. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated.

They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another without a second thought.”


“‘Ordinary Grace’ is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.”

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Winner, Edgar Award for Best Novel
  • Winner, Anthony Award for Best Novel
  • Winner, Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel
  • Winner, Barry Award for Best Novel
  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2013

We’ve all seen the reports of innocent men and women who’ve been released from prison—exonerated—due to faulty evidence, cleared by DNA evidence, etc. But what was it about the evidence that robbed people of years of their lives by forcing them sit in a prison cell while completely innocent of the crimes they were accused of committing?

Let’s take a quick peek at the human hair. For many years, law enforcement collected hairs found at crime scenes and then delivered those hairs to their laboratories for examination and comparison (does the hair found match that of a suspect?).

If the examiner took a look under a microscope and then decided the hairs were indeed a solid match then his/her word was good enough for the courts. The suspect must be guilty because the scientist said that positively and without a single doubt the hair placed the defendant at the scene of the crime. Therefore, a jury or judge had all they needed to convict and send a bewildered person to prison.

Well, in 2015 the Justice Department revealed that FBI agents weren’t so sure that hair analysis was the most exact science in the world. In fact, they basically admitted that hair analysis, at best, is inconclusive. They no longer use it as a sole means to build a case against someone.

Santae Tribble was convicted of murder based on the analysis of a hair found at the crime scene. He spent more than 27 years in prison before DNA analysis of the hair proved his innocence. He was awarded  $13.2 million in his wrongful conviction lawsuit. A little something for his “minor” inconvenience.

Next comes bite-mark evidence. Not so long ago, within the past couple of years, the Presidents  Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) announced that forensic bite-mark evidence is not scientifically valid, nor is it likely to ever be validated. In other words, more junk science (skin may move after death during decomposition, skin and flesh are not stable material—may not hold a precise pattern, etc.).

Then there are tool marks, tire impressions, footwear impressions, and fingerprints. Yes, there are flaws within the testing of those items as well. Even the golden goose of all evidence—DNA—is not a perfect science.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 2155 people have been exonerated of crimes they didn’t commit. To put that in perspective … innocent people spent 18,750 years in prison due to someone’s error—flawed evidence examination, prosecutor or law enforcement mistake, evidence contamination, flawed procedures, flaws in the law, etc. 18,750 years, gone. Lives wasted.

A great example of how a flawed bite-mark examination sent an innocent man to death row is the story of our friend Ray Krone. Ray was … well, I think I’ll sit back and post Ray’s tale as he told it to me a while back.

Ray Krone Spent 10 Years on Death Row for a Crime He Didn’t Commit

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Cheryl read a novel by Polly Iyer about a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder, released, and then framed for a series of murders. As with all good fiction, there were elements of fact in this story. Polly’s description of the impact of wrongful convictions struck a chord with Cheryl, and she sent Polly an email saying so. That email started an exchange that led to me posting on this blog today.

My story isn’t much of a mystery, but it has twists and turns that wouldn’t make it past a fiction editor’s red pencil. Lee thought that it might be of interest to you, so here goes. I’m not a professional writer but I hope that I’ll be able to provide some useful insights into the ripples that result from sloppy police work, ineffective defense counsel, and overzealous prosecutors.

I won’t go into details about my life prior to my arrest and wrongful conviction. It was unremarkable as most lives are, except to the people who live them. I sang in the church choir, was a Boy Scout, and played team sports throughout my school years. I was never in any trouble, never even had detention in school. I grew up in a small town, joined the Air Force, and following my Honorable Discharge remained in Phoenix, AZ, my last duty station. I got a job with the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier.

Ray before his arrest for a crime he didn’t commit

At 35, I was single and living the good life. My salary allowed me to buy my own home and have lots of big boy toys—sand rail, Corvette, swimming pool. I had a loving family back in PA, and loyal friends all over the country. Little did I know that I was about to find out just how important those people were.

I’d always enjoyed team sports, and still do. A bar in my neighborhood sponsored volleyball and dart teams, and I played on both. On December 29, 1991, the owner found his night manager, Kim Ancona, on the men’s room floor. She’d been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. A co-worker told police detectives Kim had said someone named Ray was going to help her close up that night. I had a casual acquaintance with this woman, and knew her only as a bartender and occasional dart player. She was living with a man and as far as I was concerned, that was as good as married and made her off-limits.

Detectives found my name and phone number in her address book and came to see me. It’s important to note at this point that my name and phone number were not in my handwriting or in Kim’s. How they got there remains a mystery to this day. I was questioned by the Phoenix Police, and cooperated—until I realized they were trying to pin this murder on me.  The legal wrangling is public record—you can Google my name and read countless stories about my case.

Being the one hundredth person to be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die, only to be found factually innocent after spending years on Death Row and in prison, put me on the radar of a society that was beginning to question the value of capital punishment. My conviction was based solely on bite mark evidence. Because I refused to show remorse for a crime I didn’t commit, I was sentenced to death. After almost three years on Death Row, I was granted a new trial. I was again convicted, and sentenced to 23 years for the kidnapping, and 25 years to life for the murder. Only a random series of events would free me.  Court-ordered DNA would finally free me and identify the real killer. I spent a total of ten years, three months and eight days in prison for something I didn’t do. I was 35 when arrested and 45 when I was exonerated.

Ray as an inmate at Arizona State Prison in Yuma

The life events that other people take for granted were stolen from me, and no amount of money, sympathy or accolades will ever give me a chance to experience them. They are gone forever. Am I bitter? I try not to be—the family and friends who stood by me have helped me adjust and appreciate what I do have. I try not to focus on what I’ve been denied in this life, but what I’ve been given. I’ve learned the hardest way possible the true meaning of “you find out who your friends are.” Despite the love and support of friends and family, I still have moments when I feel rage at what happened to me, even after more than ten years of freedom.

Billboard on I-83 in Harrisburg, Pa.

There have been millions of words written and hundreds of television shows about the impact on men and women who were sentenced to die for a crime they didn’t commit. There are well-documented studies about innocent men and women who were executed in the name of justice. There are other victims of a legal system that penalizes the poor and rewards prosecutors for conviction rates without examining the accuracy of those convictions.  Not just the families of the wrongfully convicted, who often lose what little they have in the defense of their loved ones, but the families of the original victim, the new victims created by the guilty party who remains free, their families, the jurors who are denied access to all of the evidence in a case. The list goes on and on—I misspoke when I called it a ripple—it’s a tsunami, wreaking havoc and destruction, and in many cases, is preventable.

I’m part of a nationally-known group called Witness to Innocence. We have only one membership requirement, but it’s a tough one. You must have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die for a crime which you did not commit. Although many of us are unable to speak publicly about what happened to us, many others find it therapeutic to do so. We have spoken in front of groups ranging from high school students to Congress to the United Nations. We share our experiences at law schools, forensics conventions and gatherings of legal professionals—anywhere that telling our stories will help provide insight, and hopefully inspiration.

The Witness to Innocence photo above is of only some of the members. Left to right: Ray Krone, Albert Burrell, Kirk Bloodsworth, Gary Drinkard, Randy Steidl, Ron Keine, Delbert Tibbs and Derek Jamison. Each of these men (and our one female member, Sabrina Porter) have stories that defy belief, as do all of the members.

I’m honored to have been invited to address the readers of this blog. For more information about Witness to Innocence, stories of exoneration or speaker’s schedules, please visit www.witnesstoinnocence.org


According to the Innocence Project, since 1989, 353 people have been exonerated of their crimes based on DNA. Twenty of those people served time on death row.