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It was, according to news reports from that time, a brutal and undeserved death. A 36-year-old female bartender was found dead in the men’s restroom of the bar where she worked in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 29, 1991. Apparently, she had died from a fatal stab wound, and there was little evidence to help officers track down the killer. Besides the fact that she was found naked, there were no signs of a physical assault or semen and DNA samples to indicate that a rape occurred.
The only relevant piece of evidence investigators had was the bite marks found on the victim’s neck and breast. After learning from a friend of the victim’s that a certain Ray Krone was supposed to help her close the bar on that particular night, police officers asked Krone to provide an impression of his teeth for comparison. The lab results got Krone arrested and accused of sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder.
Although Krone pleaded innocent and maintained his testimony throughout the trial, saying he was in bed and asleep at the moment the crime was committed, he was sentenced to death and a consecutive 21-year imprisonment – on the counts of murder and kidnapping. He appealed the court decision, but lost again; however, his sentence was changed to life in prison, as certain doubts about the validity of the evidence started to surface.
Finally, after serving more than 10 years of his sentence and spending two years on the death row, Krone was released on April 8, 2002, after DNA testing proved his innocence. Prior to his arrest, Ray Krone had no criminal record, had worked in the postal service for several years, and was a respected member of the community. What helped him during this time was the support he continued to receive from his family:
“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.”
Just like Ray, many other people spent time in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Krone was the 100th former death row inmate released because he was innocent and the 12th to have his innocence proven by post-sentencing DNA testing.
The biggest problem with wrongful-conviction cases is that it directly unveils the sad reality of our criminal justice system, one ridden with technical mistakes and faulty evidence. In too many cases, innocent people are sentenced to years in prison based on the flimsiest of evidence: DNA testing, eyewitness testimonies, and false confessions. Instead of admitting dubious evidence tocourt and accusing innocent people of crimes they didn’t commit, legislators should focus on fixing the system by building in protections for the wrongfully convicted and give them a chance to recover their lives.
About the Author
Andrew M. Weisberg is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, Illinois. A former prosecutor in Cook County, Mr. Weisberg,is a member of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar, an elite group of criminal attorneys who are certified by the Illinois Supreme Court to try death penalty cases. He is also a member of the Federal Trial Bar. Mr. Weisberg is a sole practitioner at the Law Offices of Andrew M. Weisberg.