Ex-death row inmates rail on capital punishment

October 10, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Ray Krone remembers vividly last April 29 when his lawyer called him in prison and asked what he wanted to eat for supper that night.

That was how Krone, 45, of Dover in York County, Pa., knew that he was finally going to be free after being imprisoned for 10 years, four months and seven days, much of it on Arizona's death row.

Krone and William Nieves, another exonerated death row inmate, were the key speakers at a symposium Wednesday at Wilson College sponsored by the advocacy group Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty.


Krone was acquitted on DNA evidence and the confession of the man who had killed the barmaid that Krone had been convicted of murdering, kidnapping and sexually assaulting in 1992.

He told the audience of nearly 100 that he was convicted on a bite mark on the victim that state experts said matched his teeth.

The death sentence was dropped and he was sentenced to life in prison following a second trial that the Arizona Supreme Court ordered on the grounds he had had improper legal representation and no opportunity to rebut the state's expert witness.

A cousin learned of his fate and hired a lawyer to dig into Krone's case. DNA taken from the victim's clothing finally proved that Krone was not the murderer.

"If it had not been for my cousin I'd still be in prison," he said. He warned the audience that being innocent offers no protection from a system bent on executing people.

"If this happened to me it could happen to anyone. I was just an average citizen who had never been in trouble before," he said.

Krone was the 100th person freed from death row in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 because they were later found innocent. Two more have since been released.

Nieves, 36, of Philadelphia, was sentenced to death in July 1994 for killing a Philadelphia man on Dec. 22, 1992, in what police called a drug-related murder.

Nieves spent eight years in prison, including six on Pennsylvania's death row.

He, too, won a new trial on the grounds of ineffective legal counsel. Prosecutors withheld testimony from two witnesses in his first trial, he said. One took the stand in his retrial and testified that he had seen the murder take place and that Nieves was not involved.

Nieves was acquitted on Oct. 20, 2000.

Speaking of his ordeal, Nieves said he was scared to death when he knew he was facing a murder charge. "I was educated enough to know that it meant life in prison or the death penalty," he said.

"Let me tell you about life on death row," he said. He described the size of his small cell by pacing it off before the audience. He said he was permitted only three short showers a week, got his meals through a small sliding door in his cell and was refused medical attention for two years for a painful gallstone condition.

"For six years I paced back and forth wondering what would happen to me if I lost my appeals," he said. He said he watched as three fellow inmates were taken away to be executed.

"Once you see one go you wonder each day if it will be your day to go," he said.

Nieves joined the Pennsylvania anti-death penalty group and said he is dedicating his life to getting the punishment banned.

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