Righting Wrongs: Ending the Death Penalty
Resource type: Grantee Story
On 21 September 2011, Larry Cox, former executive director of Amnesty International USA, gathered his thoughts in a church in Georgia across from the prison where Troy Davis awaited execution. Atlantic support has played a key role in building momentum and making demonstrable progress in the campaign to abolish the death penalty. Photo: Scott Langley
Ray Krone’s advocacy to eliminate the death penalty is deeply personal. After serving more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including 32 months on death row, he was the 100th person nationwide to be exonerated for a crime punishable by death. In 2002, DNA tests established another man had committed the murder for which Mr. Krone had been found guilty.
He recalls hearing his mother tell a reporter that she set a place at the table for him every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mr. Krone said: “To hear that, to think of what my mom went through… helped me realise how I need to do this for her, for my sisters, for all the people who have sat in a courtroom and been told that they are guilty when they are not…. I was a Boy Scout, a postman… I was in the Air Force. If they could do it to me, they could do it to anyone.”
Mr. Krone serves as the director of communications and training for Witness to Innocence (WTI), the only organisation advocating the end of the death penalty that is composed of exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones. WTI has received support from Atlantic, the largest funder of efforts to abolish the death penalty, through re-grants from the Proteus Action League. Atlantic also supported other grantees’ successful effort in the Roper vs. Simmons case, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional in 2005.
Grantees have been instrumental in abolishing the death penalty in six states – Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York – in six years; establishing Oregon’s moratorium; and preventing Wisconsin from reinstating it.
Other signs that the tide is turning include a 50 per cent drop in both executions over 10 years and juror death-penalty verdicts since the 1990s. Since Mr. Krone, 40 more people have been exonerated from death row. Recent polls indicate the lowest national support for the death penalty in 40 years, and police chiefs rank it last in measures that prevent violent crime. Cash-strapped states are re-considering its astounding financial costs; California has spent $4 billion for 13 executions since 1978.
Atlantic has invested $41.2 million to eliminate the death penalty, with at least 98 lives saved; and several states have moratoria on executions affecting 1,170 inmates, including 723 in California.
As for the criminal justice system, this work is making positive contributions for broader reform efforts, and success would free millions of dollars for needed improvements. Ending the death penalty would spare all innocent people like Mr. Krone from the risk of execution.
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Proteus Action League is also an Atlantic grantee working to end the death penalty in the United States.