Death row exonoree spins real-life crime and horror story

Ray Krone, a death row exonoree, visited Radford University for talks in a criminal justice class and at the Bonnie Auditorium.

A real "dead man walking" told a horror story to a standing-room-only audience in the Hurlburt Student Center Auditorium Nov. 3.

Ray Krone is no ghost or zombie. He is the 100th person exonerated from a death sentence in the United States. At the Bonnie, as well as at the United Nations, the United States and various state capitols and in the media, Krone spoke to “the horrors of the death penalty and the mistakes that are made.”

"Ten years, three month and eight days," said Krone about the time spent from interrogation for a murder that occurred at a bar he frequented to the day he hung his prison-issue clothes on the "Welcome to Arizona" highway sign on the way home to Pennsylvania with his family.

Krone, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is now the director of membership and training for Witness to Innocence, an organization that engages exonerated death row survivors to advocate the end of the death penalty in the United States.

"It is not a sad story, but it has some sad parts in it," Krone said. "The happy part is that I am here."

Reaction to Krone’s speech was as strong as the speech itself.

"Honestly, I don’t have words to describe my reaction," said Samuel Rogers, a senior criminal justice major who aspires to be a Secret Service agent. "I am surprised at the juries and see how important all of the things we are learning about procedures are."

Kyle Alger, a junior criminal justice major, said he came in skeptical, but said that Krone’s emotional, but measured, talk made an impression.

“I came in jaded and expected law enforcement bashing, but he showed how the job of justice was not done right,” Alger said.

Through Krone’s eyes, the students heard about the interrogation, the arrest, the trials and the appeals as well as the dismal life on death row. He talked about the range of legal counsel - apathetic to heroic – that represented him in the process.

He talked about the lab technician who proved his innocence and unlocked his cell by matching crime scene DNA with the database of DNA samples drawn from known violent criminals and sex offenders.

“This lab technician extracted DNA, compared it to me and it wasn’t me. That was all that was required by the court order. She could have stopped right there,” said Krone his voice rising. “I say: ‘You go, girl! God bless you, you over-achiever."

He said that on her own, she decided to take that crime scene DNA sample and plug it into the database. Her initiative led to a match with a man who was currently serving a sentence for sexual assault and who had been living four blocks from the site of the crime on parole at the time of the murder and who eventually was convicted of it. 

He reflected on the criminal justice system, saying, “Any system is as good as the people in it,” Krone said. “Our system was meant to be fair and just. People have taken advantage of that. They get lazy or ambitious. I guess that is human nature.”

The United States has a dubious distinction as a world leader in executions, Krone added.

“We are in the top five in the world for executing people. The four above us are China, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Krone said. "Think about that company."

Krone spoke feelingly about the irrevocability of an execution, saying, “When you don’t have the death sentence, there’s always a chance to prove innocence.”

Krone warned about ignorance and apathy.

“Anything that has the power to take your liberty, your freedom or your life, you better know something about,” he said. “Know all you can. It’s not like television, believe me.”

Socially, he challenged his audience to “unite with people of common faith and fight for the changes you think need to be made.”

On an individual level, Krone comforted and challenged his audience.

“Find strength in my story and the stories of 154 other men and women exonerated from death row. Endure and persevere. When you do, you will have attained a sense of accomplishment, a sense of worth and a sense of value because of your determination,” Krone said.

Nov 12, 2015