He was sentenced to death because the judge saw him as a cold-blooded killer with no remorse. How could he show remorse for something he did not do?
Ray Krone was shocked when he became the prime suspect in the murder of a woman he had only known for two months and was arrested for her murder on Dec. 31, 1991. He did not think he would be in jail for long.
"I actually believed that the police ... out there ... (doing) the investigation would find out everything I told them was the truth and I'll be out of (there) any minute," Krone said while addressing students and faculty at the Hodges Library auditorium Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.
Krone spent 10 years, three months and eight days behind bars — the first three on death row. Krone was convicted after a supposed expert witness testified that Krone's dental impressions matched bite marks on the body. After the decade-long legal battle that included two trials, reanalysis evidence and the discovery that the expert witness that matched his dental impressions to the marks on the body was not certified, Krone was released from prison in Arizona on April 8, 2002. Instead of letting the anger at the injustice consume him, Krone now travels as an activist, working to improve the U.S. criminal justice system.
He is the 100th individual in the U.S. to be released from death row.
"He's been all over the world," Stacy Rector, the executive director of Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said. "He speaks to students, he speaks to legislators, he's spoken to world leaders ... (He's) helping people understand how broken the system is."
Rector, an ordained Presbyterian minister, served as a spiritual advisor to a Tennessee death row inmate before his execution in 2009. She emphasized many of the failings of the death penalty.
"It's unfairly applied ... it continues to be racially biased ... (roughly) 40 percent of the row is made up of people of color," she said. "... People with mental disabilities are disproportionately affected (and) unable to assist their defense, sometimes confessing to things they didn't do as a result of their mental illness. ..."
Where someone lives also contributes to being sentenced to death. Thirty-five percent of Tennessee death row sentences come from Shelby County.
"... Half the counties in Tennessee have never sent anyone to death row," Rector said. "Which means you could be charged with a crime in Shelby County and charged with the exact same crime in another county and end up with very difference sentences."
As the executive director for TADP, Rector said they often hear that speeding up the process of conviction and the death penalty would be better for the individuals and their families, and would cost less. While true, she said it would not help solve the larger problem.
"If you speed up the process, those individuals who have been now been found to have been wrongfully convicted ... would be dead," Rector said. "Most of them spent decades fighting their wrongful conviction."
Amnesty International at UT sponsored the event as a part of Human Rights Week. The 30 people who attended the event were encouraged to write their representatives as a part of UT's annual "Write-a-Thon" event and get involved with TADP to encourage Tennessee to abolish the death penalty.