Over the years, I have had the rare privilege of friendship with some incredible people, including several men who were wrongly convicted of capital crimes and condemned to death. While some were killed before they could be proven innocent, I am grateful that some lived to show us the dangers of a system that could take an innocent life in the name of justice.
One such person is Ray Krone, a death penalty abolitionist and the 100th inmate to be exonerated from death row since the death sentence was reinstated in 1976. In this compelling interview, Ray gives us a powerful and personal look into how easily an innocent man was sent to death row and the cost it exacted on his life.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci: It is not uncommon for public perception of a person is in prison — especially death row — to be that they are guilty and deserve to be there. How did you handle this strong presumption of guilt? What was it like to have so many believe the worst about you?
Ray Krone: You are right, if you get arrested for a violent crime, your name and face appear in many media outlets right away. The public has been lead to believe what they read/see there. What a burden for the wrongfully accused to overcome. I was embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted with this coverage at first and it bother me intensely.
Eventually I realized there was nothing I could do about that. The more important thing was proving my innocence. That became my focus and thankfully those who knew me believed and supported me. That’s who I was then focused on and to hell with those who were wrong! I couldn’t allow the ignorant and hateful people to destroy the good people I knew in my life!
JAR: You were once asked by an interviewer why God left you in prison for ten years. You answered by saying, “Maybe it’s about the next ten years.” What did you mean by that? What does it mean to you now, 14 years after your release?
RK: I felt that something positive must come from those years in prison. I became an advocate and voice for abolition, justice system reform, and encouragement for those facing injustice. I want that same public that accepted the original news stories to be ashamed and embarrassed like me and my family were.
I want them to believe one particular fact: if it could happen to me it can happen to anyone! I believe I’ve had success and that makes me very proud now that I fought the status quo and have so many people thank me for it.
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JAR: If you could help people understand one thing about death row and capital punishment, what would it be?
RK: I think the fact that our justice system has repeatedly sentenced innocent people to death should outrage them. In addition I think they should know that it is a failed policy and not the “ultimate punishment” that they yearn for. If you want them to truly suffer, sentence them to life without parole, where they have to wake up everyday in our oppressive prisons knowing you never be freed and you deserve this suffering. Executing them is just letting them out of punishment. I know, I was on the row when people were executed and none of them whined or cried about dying, kill me and do me a favor!
JAR: Deservedly, you received two settlements after your release. Yet so many exonerated prisoners receive little to no support or compensation. While no amount of money can turn back the clock, why are these kinds of reparations important?
RK: We talk about justice and fairness as a cornerstone of our justice system. Well, then clearly restitution for those innocents is in line with that policy and belief. The financial and emotional costs to the accused and their family is extreme and should undoubtably be addressed in a modern, truly democratic society. Health, vocational assistance, education and public stigmatization are all issues that the exonerated must face and they deserve assistance from the same public/government that prosecuted them.
JAR: What keeps you awake at nights now? What are the most important battles you see ahead? What excites and gives you hope?
RK: I am mostly positive about the changes I’ve witnessed but am still worried about the unchecked powers of self-serving prosecutors and corrupt/incompetent investigators who face no consequences for their bad acts that truly put the public they are sworn to protect at more risk!
JAR: Thank you, Ray.
For more information on how you can help end the death penalty, please visit the Equal Justice Initiative.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci has been corresponding with men on death row for years, actively engaging in the work to see capital punishment put to an end globally. His celebrated novel, “The Last Verdict”, was inspired by his friendship with death row inmates.