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Friday, April 9, 2010

Ex-death-row inmate shares story

NASHUA – Ray Krone has left death row the way few inmates ever do – alive.

Krone, 51, spoke to Rivier College’s Challenge of Peace class Thursday about his 10 years in an Arizona prison. Three of those years were on death row after he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit.

Krone, the director of communications and training for a nonprofit advocacy agency called Witness Innocence, is in the state to testify before a legislative commission studying the state’s death penalty laws. He will speak to the committee today.

Krone was a mail carrier and Air Force veteran living in Phoenix, Ariz., on Dec. 29, 1991, when the body of a 36-year-old woman was found in the men’s room of the bar where she worked and where Krone was an occasional customer, according to his biography on the Witness to Innocence Web site.

Krone was quickly identified as a suspect and was arrested two days later after cooperating with police and giving them samples of his hair and blood and casts of his teeth. He was convicted of murder and kidnapping and sentenced to death, largely on the back of an expert witness who testified that bite marks found on the victim belonged to Krone.

Krone was granted a new trial by the state Supreme Court and convicted again in 1994, but sentenced to 46 years in prison. He was 35, he said.

Finally, in 2002, a new Arizona law allowed inmates to petition for additional DNA testing if the evidence related directly to their guilt or innocence. Experts found DNA on the victim’s pants and ruled out Krone as the murderer. It was connected instead to Kenneth Phillips, who was already in jail for sexual assault and lived behind the bar at the time of the murder, Krone said.

Since his release, Krone has traveled as a speaker against the death penalty and has testified before government bodies in the United States and Europe for reforms in the criminal justice system.

Krone said too many times juries make mistakes, or the system doesn’t work or police or prosecutor misconduct puts innocent people in prison or even on death row for crimes they had no part in. Even if the system worked 100 percent of the time, executing criminals in the name of justice is gross hypocrisy and not worthy of a civilized country, he said.

“We’re not a pillory of justice if we do that,” Krone said. “We can fix it as a society. We can fix the system.”

Krone supported the death penalty before his ordeal but described his opinion as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The flaws in the system would be eye-opening to most people, he said, and so he works open eyes to the realities of the system and the death penalty. That’s what he hopes to be able to do with his testimony before the death penalty commission today.

“I hope it’s an education. I hope it’s an enlightenment,” he said. “I want people to pull their heads out of the sand and realize what’s going on.”

Not digging deeper into the issues, not taking a stand is as bad as propping up unjust systems, Krone said.

He believes, someday, the death penalty will be abolished and looked back on with embarrassment, similar to slavery and women not being allowed to vote.

“There’s going to be a day when we look back and say ‘how the hell did we let that happen?’ ” Krone said. “I’m sure of it.”

The Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire is conducting a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the death penalty versus life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In February, another former death row inmate later found innocent, Juan Melendez, testified before the commission. Melendez spent 18 years on Florida’s death row before the real killer’s taped confession came to light.

The commission was formed last year after state prosecutors tried two death penalty cases last year, winning a death sentence once.

Michael Addison was sentenced to death for killing Manchester Police officer Michael Briggs. He is appealing.

The commission has difficult questions on its agenda, including whether the death penalty actually deters crime and whether it’s a possible sentence for the appropriate crimes. It is scheduled to submit its findings to the legislature Dec. 1.

Krone’s visit to Rivier on Thursday came after appearances at Dartmouth College on Wednesday and Bishop Guertin High School earlier Thursday. He also met with a group of public defenders this week, he said.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or