December 21st, 2011
05:10 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: Bite Mark Evidence Sends Innocent Man to Death Row

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.”

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Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gary Tuchman
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Dorina Lisson (ACADP Australia)

    It's beyond belief that the USA continues to execute people when the death penalty system has been proven to be seriously flawed, riddled with legal errors and extremely corrupt. The death penalty system is broken beyond repair – it cannot be fixed. There is no such thing as a perfect criminal justice system.

    The USA is kindly invited to join the civilized nations of the world by abolishing this barbaric, brutal, cruel, degrading, inhuman, uncivilized, rotten to the core, state-sanctioned vile act of vengeance.

    The death penalty is not true justice ... it is a 'legalized hate crime'.

    December 22, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Judi Caruso

      Well said, Dorina! While we can reduce the risk of error through reform and scientific advances we can never eliminate the risk entirely because quite simply we are not perfect. We will inevitably make mistakes. Reasonable people can disagree about the morality of the death penalty, but unless we can figure out a way to resurrect an innocent person from the grave, there can be no place in a civilized society for the death penalty. It is time for the U.S. to part company with the world's leading executioners and human rights violators like China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and join the rest of the civilized world that has recognized the death penalty for what it is: A barbaric and ineffective punishment that is unfairly applied and can never be reversed when we get it wrong. Thanks to Ray for sharing his story of supreme injustice and exposing the fatal flaws of this anachronistic punishment. May he keep sharing his story and may we never forget Troy Davis, Cameron Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna, Leo Jones and Lord only knows how many others who have been executed for crimes they did not commit.

      December 22, 2011 at 10:24 pm |