DNA frees Arizona inmate after 10 years in prison
10 years included time on death row
 

By Dennis Wagner Beth DeFalco, and Patricia Biggs
The Arizona Republic
April 09, 2002 12:00:00


Ray Krone (R) with his attorney, Christopher Plourd

Ray Krone walked out of Arizona State Prison at Yuma on Monday, freed by DNA evidence after serving 10 years and
facing the death penalty for a murder he didn't commit.

During a phone call moments before he stepped into the Arizona sunshine, Krone's voice quavered with emotion. "There's
tears in my eyes," he said. "Your heart's beating. You can't hardly talk."

Freedom came just hours after Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley held a news conference to acknowledge that
Krone almost certainly did not sexually assault and kill cocktail waitress Kim Ancona at a Phoenix lounge in 1991.

Romley said new evidence not only vindicates Krone, but points directly at Kenneth Phillips, 36, who is serving time in
Florence for an unrelated sex crime.

Prosecutors are considering investigating whether to charge Phillips, Romley said.

Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Harold Hurtt announced that they would ask for Krone's release pending a hearing next month to vacate the murder conviction.  Both officials stressed that detectives and prosecutors who won Krone's conviction were operating with strong circumstantial evidence. However, they said, new DNA findings make it clear that they had the wrong man.

"He (Krone) deserves an apology from us, that's for sure," Romley said. "A mistake was made here. . . . What do you say to him? An injustice was done and we will try to do better. And we're sorry."

Krone refused to place blame for his decade behind bars.

"I'm not pointing fingers. . . . Maybe it was a mistake, maybe incompetence," he said. But he made it clear that he felt betrayed by the justice system.

Even after his first conviction, Krone said, he lived by a mantra: "I didn't do it, so how could there be unquestionable evidence that I did?"

Krone was sentenced to death, spending two years and eight months in Cellblock 6 in Florence, watching other condemned inmates taken away for execution.

Krone maintained hope when a second trial was granted but says he gave up when, in his mind, jurors ignored overwhelming evidence and testimony in his favor.  When the life sentence came down, Krone said, "that pretty much ruled out all the faith I had in truth and justice."

Krone said he tried to focus on being strong for friends and family who supported him. He read from his Bible each night, and said a prayer "for the truth to come out and, Lord, change the hearts of my accusers."

Bite marks convincing

Once labeled the "snaggletooth killer," Krone was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence, particularly expert testimony that bite marks found on the victim
matched his teeth.

No DNA evidence was submitted in the first trial, and genetic tracing results provided for the second trial merely failed to preclude him as the perpetrator.

But all of that changed after defense attorney Alan Simpson obtained a court order, and Phoenix police produced new results.

On Monday, prosecutor William Culbertson told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Alfred Fenzel that DNA found in saliva on the victim's tank top did not come from Krone. In fact, chances are 1.3 quadrillion to one that it came from Phillips, the Florence prison inmate.

Culbertson said that information was bolstered by two discoveries.

First, lab results show that Phillips has type O blood, the same as that found at the crime scene.

Second, a dental expert said he "cannot eliminate Phillips as the person who left the bite mark" on Ancona's breast.

During a recent interview with Simpson at the Arizona Department of Corrections facility in Florence, Phillips purportedly admitted seeing Ancona in the men's room at the CBS Lounge the night she died. He said he needed to use the restroom, but she told him to leave because she was cleaning it. Ancona's body was found in the men's room the next morning, stabbed to death.

"Kim died a very violent death," Simpson noted after Monday's hearing. "In all the excitement for my client, we have to pause and remember that a young lady didn't
deserve to die."

Meanwhile, Fenzel ruled that it would be an injustice to keep Krone in custody any longer.

After ordering his immediate release, he set a follow-up hearing for 10:30 this morning. Krone will not be allowed to leave the state and cannot have any contact with the victim's family or any potential witnesses until the evidentiary hearing April 29.

Looking for a good meal

Around 5 p.m. Monday, Krone traded his orange prison jumpsuit for blue jeans and a T-shirt, then walked away from the Cheyenne Unit, a 30-man dorm in the Yuma prison.

He said he was desperate for a good meal after years of prison food, maybe seafood and a milkshake.

John Ontiveros, an assistant deputy warden who also knew Krone on death row, said Krone signed autographs for other inmates and then made a cellphone call to his mother before walking out the door.

He is the second Arizona convict to be exonerated by DNA evidence, and the first after facing execution.

Before the murder, he said, he viewed capital punishment as something for mass murderers and vicious criminals. Now?

"They would have executed me," he said. "Could I have any faith in it anymore? Absolutely not. I can't be the only one. . . . People need to address this issue."

Earlier, Romley and Hurtt defended the death penalty. "The system may not be perfect, but it's the best in the world," Hurtt argued.

Parents celebrate

Krone's parents, Carolyn and Jim Leming of Pennsylvania, saved his 1970 Corvette for him. As soon as they got word Monday, the couple started packing for a long drive to Phoenix.

"We just have to thank God that this worked out finally, and have to thank all of our friends and family who have stood behind Ray all these years," Carolyn said.

She questioned why her son was not released immediately after the DNA specimens found on Ancona were traced to Phillips. But she gave credit to Romley, calling him "an honest and fair person" because he was willing to apologize.

Leming predicted that her son will get on with life immediately, adding, "He won't let bitterness or anger or a woe-is-me attitude keep him from living."


 
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