Ray’s Story: A Death Penalty Mistake
Resource type: Grantee Story
“I was the 100th person exonerated from death row. So, there was lots of media attention when I got out. On that first day, a reporter asked me, ‘Ray, given your faith in God, why do you think he left you in prison all those years?’
“How do you answer a deep question like that? It shot in my head, ‘Maybe it’s about the next 10 years.’”
Ray Krone was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. After serving more than 10 consecutive years in Arizona prisons, including 32 months on death row, he was successfully exonerated in 2002. His innocence was finally established after DNA tests proved another man had committed the murder of a female bartender:
“One time after my release, I was being interviewed, and so was my mom. I happened to pass the room in which the reporter was speaking with her. I heard my mom tell him, ‘Our family used to set a place at the table for Ray at every Thanksgiving and Christmas.’ To hear that, to think of what my mom went through, to hear her say, ‘We wondered what he was eating in prison,’ that 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.
“There was the time when I was testifying on behalf of Witness to Innocence, and a prosecutor said to me, ‘You’ve been exonerated. They got the guy who did it. You’re out now. See: the system works.’ I said, ‘Tell my mom the system works.’ He didn’t ask any more questions.
“So, now I’m speaking out for my friends, my family, for all the people who need me to tell my story. I was a Boy Scout, a postman…I was in the Air Force. If they could do it to me, they could do it anyone.”
Ray serves as the Director of Communications and Training for Witness to Innocence, the nation’s only organisation composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones who are actively engaged in the effort to end the death penalty. As of December 2012, 142 people have been exonerated, thanks in part to the vigorous efforts of advocates who have brought their innocence to light.
David Love, Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, says that “exonerees” like Ray are powerful voices who change public perception about the death penalty.
“There are a host of reasons that people should be opposed to the death penalty, and who better to articulate those than the people who were innocently languishing on death row while the state plotted their murder…innocent people have been executed in the past, and if we don’t do something, innocent people will continue to be executed. Witness to Innocence is an exemplar of people who have been through a lot of pain and are trying to heal themselves and heal society.”
By sharing the stories of innocent people who were wrongly imprisoned, Witness to Innocence was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland in 2013, Connecticut in 2012, Illinois in 2011, New Mexico in 2009 and New Jersey in 2007. They also were a critical part of Wisconsin’s effective 2006 campaign to prevent the re-instatement of the death penalty.
“It’s difficult for those of us who are exonerated to tell our stories in a simple way that makes sense. During the time that we were locked up, there were multiple stories occurring simultaneously: our stories, what the prosecutors were doing, what our families were doing to prove our innocence, and what the police did. Lots of times, our stories went down a dead end and we had to backtrack, to re-start the process of ultimately being found innocent — and of us finding hope — all over again. And it’s difficult to keep the anger and bitterness in check when we tell these stories.
“Of all the tragedies and all the stuff we have to go through in our country and in our lives, this is one thing that may get better – hopefully we will succeed in abolishing the death penalty nationwide. Clearly exonerees make a difference: we enable people to see that mistakes are made. It’s a reason to get up in the morning, to keep patience.”
Grantees of The Atlantic Philanthropies have been instrumental in the six states—New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland—in the last six years that abolished the death penalty, and they were pivotal in the case that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional in 2005. Atlantic began its work in this area in 2004 and is the largest funder of work to abolish the death penalty in the U.S.
Witness to Innocence received re-grants of Atlantic funds from Proteus Action League.