Ray Krone was arrested for the sexual assault and brutal murder of a female bartender in Phoenix, Arizona in 1991. The case rested largely on bite mark evidence on the body of the victim, 36-year-old Kim Ancona. Krone was dubbed by the media as the “snaggletooth killer.” He was found guilty and recieved the death penalty.
“I was called a monster, then an unremorseful killer, then sentenced to death and shackled and taken right straight to death row,” says Krone.
He vehemently maintained his innocence and fought for a retrial. In 1996 Krone was given a second chance to prove he didn’t commit the murder. Again, the same bite mark expert's testimony portrayed him as guilty, but this time Krone’s defense team had their own bite mark experts to rebut the prosecution.
“I was starting to get a sense of real faith again in the system, the truth was coming out. The jury was seeing this, this bite mark expert for the prosecution was going to be exposed and things were going to be OK for me and my family again,” he said.
But the jury once again found Krone guilty. “It hurt, it was more painful than the first time,” says Krone. He added, “but it isn’t what nearly killed me. What cut me to the bone, to the core, was they said ‘guilty’ and I heard this most horrible scream, this moan from my Mom and sister about five feet behind me (in court).”
Although Krone was found guilty a second time, the judge had doubts about the case and took him off death row and reduced his sentence to 25 years to life in prison. Krone says despite the lesser sentence, he nearly lost all hope.
“I’m not going back to death row, but really you already took my life, my freedom, my honor, my word is no good, I’m a monster, you might as well kill me. What is there to live for?”
But he never gave up fighting and his family and defense team never stopped believing in his innocence. In 2002, DNA from the crime scene was analyzed and not only didn't match Krone’s, but there was another person in the DNA database who it matched perfectly. To make things easy on law enforcement, the perfect match was already behind bars – a convict named Kenneth Phillips.
Phillips was serving a sentence on an unrelated charge, had been living very close to the bar where the murder took place in 1991 and after being presented with the DNA evidence, took a plea deal for the murder of Kim Ancona.
After more than a decade behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Ray Krone was finally exonerated. He got the news in a phone call from his lawyer. Krone says his lawyer told him, “They are cutting the paperwork Ray. You’re coming home today.” Krone added, “Of course my knees shook I could hardly breathe. I go, ‘what did you just say?’” Krone says, “Four hours later I walked out of that prison a free man.”
Bite mark analysis is still used as evidence in criminal cases, but there are serious questions about its validity. The National Academy of Sciences was commissioned by Congress to study it and other facets of forensic science. They concluded in a report, “The scientific basis is insufficient to conclude that bite mark comparisons can result in a conclusive match.”
Today Ray Krone lives with his girlfriend, Cheryl, on a 27-acre property in rural Pennsylvania that’s he’s dubbed the “Freebird Farm,” after the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song. The song took on special meaning for Krone when he was freed from prison.
He works as an advocate against the death penalty with other death row exonerees for an organization called Witness to Innocence because he says he’s living proof that miscarriages of justice are made. “If this could happen to me, this could happen to anybody,” he says, adding, “we can’t keep giving people the ultimate punishment for something that is human in nature – the system does make mistakes.”
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with