WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–As the world watches America play tug-of-war with the alleged sniper suspects over who has the toughest laws and which state is more likely to execute, death penalty opponents remind the country that the number of men who finally walk free from death row after being wrongfully convicted are adding up.
Ray Krone is the 100th innocent person convicted of capital murder to walk free from prison since 1973. He was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of Kim Ancona, a Phoenix, Az., cocktail waitress. He spent three years on Arizona’s death row before his first conviction was overturned. He was retried and sentenced to life in prison in 1996.
“What they did to me, they could do to everyone,” he told The Final Call, following his Nov. 2 speech to Amnesty International’s mid-Atlantic regional conference here. “I didn’t believe it was happening and for the longest time I kept thinking that they were going to let me go at any moment because I was innocent.”
But that wasn’t the case. Circumstantial evidence, including expert testimony claiming that bite marks on the victim matched Mr. Krone’s distinguishing dental pattern, sent him to death row. During his first trial, DNA evidence was not presented to the jury and test results obtained for his second trial were inconclusive.
“They didn’t have any fingerprints, eyewitnesses or motive, yet they sent me to death row for a crime that I was totally innocent of,” he said.
Last year, defense attorney Alan Simpson secured a court order to test the physical evidence using the latest DNA technology. It was this test that vindicated Mr. Krone and was the basis for his release from prison on April 8.
Prosecutors told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Alfred Fenzel that the chances are 1.3 quadrillion to one that the DNA found on the victim’s clothing came from inmate Kenneth Phillips, currently serving time in Arizona’s Florence prison.
“This 100th exoneration should be a turning point in our evaluation of the death penalty,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“This is a wake-up call for all who believe that only the guilty are sentenced to death. These 100 cases have surely taught us that states are taking unreasonable risks with innocent lives.”
Maryland and Illinois have called for moratoriums on their death penalties. Hearings for all Illinois death row inmates recently concluded in Illinois where Gov. George Ryan is considering granting clemency to some or all death row inmates before he leaves office in January.
The Maryland moratorium has been raised as a concern for Montgomery County as the prosecuting state for the alleged snipers. Virginia has a vibrant death penalty and is second only to Texas in number of executions across the country.
According to the Campaign to Eliminate the Death Penalty, Illinois has released as many from death row as it has executed since 1976. As a result, an Illinois Supreme Court Justice said, “Despite the courts’ efforts to fashion a death penalty scheme that is just … the system is not working. Innocent people are being sentenced to death. … If this is the best our state can do, we have no business sending people to their deaths.”
Mr. Krone is the second death row exoneree this year and the 12th DNA exoneration in the nation since 1993. The first 2002 exoneree was Juan Melendez, a Florida man who spent nearly two decades on death row before a judge ordered his release.
The court determined that prosecutors in Mr. Melendez’s original trial withheld critical evidence, thereby undermining confidence in the original verdict.
“I can only say to the other innocent men and women on death row to just keep the faith. I saw people being released on television and wondered when it would happen to me,” said Mr. Krone.