If ten years of your life — 315,360,000 seconds, 5,256,000 minutes, 87,600 hours or 3,650 days — were taken from you, what would you do? What if those ten years were taken from you by someone you trusted with your life?
For Ray Krone, this is not a hypothetical situation, and that “someone” is the criminal justice system. Krone, the hundredth death row inmate to be freed because of innocence, has good reason to be angry and mistrusting of the law. Yet, yesterday evening at Myron Taylor Hall of the Cornell Law School, Krone told his story to a crowded room — a room crowded, mainly, with law students.
How does one begin to tell such a story?
“Now, you don’t know anything about this, but I find myself in bars every now and then,” Krone started.
He set the tone for the rest of the talk, one that would be filled with intensity of emotion, but also laughter. He described the crime scene in great detail, placing the listener right next to the bar owner who discovered Kim Ancona’s body in the men’s bathroom of CBS Lounge, a Phoenix bar.
He went through the chain of events that led to his arrest on Dec. 31, 1991, through his experiences in jail and on death row, through the excruciating appeals process, to the moment when, after ten years, at 45 years old, he came back to life.
“What are you hungry for?” his lawyer asked him, before breaking the news.
When he spoke of the abuses of authority, the lies and deception, the frustrations, the biases — there was anger. When he spoke of his family and friends, who were with him all the way; time lost and work undone; the victim’s mother, coming up to him, shaking his hand with tears in her eyes, offering her apologies — there was sadness. But this was not the focus of Krone’s talk. Most of all, there was hope.
Kristin Stein ’08 read about the talk from a flyer and a friend in one of the Cornell Death Penalty Project classes. She agreed there is much to learn from Krone’s experience.
“Our lives are so detached … it’s interesting to see what they go through. We really have it so good,” Stein said.
Margaret Jantzen law ’08 realized the responsibility that comes with her chosen career.
“Lives are at stake. There are two ways to think about your role: the first, representing your client at all costs and, the second, looking for truth. Those two things can lead you to different paths, especially when there are gross inequalities on both sides,” she said.
“When days get tough,” Krone said. “Think of my story and that of 122 other people. Remember and find some strength.”
He spoke of his family and friends, who had nothing — “no money, just a lot of faith” — but took on injustice and won.
“Make this justice system something you can be proud of, ” he said. “We can make it better.”
A portion of Krone’s speech focused on reminding people that no one is beyond the reach of injustice: “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
Krone spoke at the law school last night in order to make his contribution to the fight against ignorance, saying towards the end of his speech that “the death penalty doesn’t need your support, just your apathy.”
His final note was one of encouragement and hope for the future.
“When the time comes,” he said, “you’re going to know when to stand up.”