Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ray Krone: Another Wrongful Conviction Based on Junk Forensics

Ray Krone spent ten years in an Arizona prison, four of them on death row, for a crime he did not commit.  Shocking?  Not really.  He was the one hundredth person to have served time on death row and later to be exonerated by DNA evidence.  What is so shocking to me is the so-called evidence used to convict him.  With the advent of "CSI" (the "CSI" phenomenon perhaps?) people are more and more swayed by so-called "scientific forensic evidence" and less by motive, character, even alibi witnesses.

Paula Zahn ("On the Case with Paula Zahn," 1/23/11, Shadow of a Doubt) reported on this case last Sunday evening.  You have to think that, were it not for shows like this, were it not for reporters like Ms. Zahn, were it not for a public interest in these things, that many less folks would be exonerated. And goodness knows many many more innocent folk are locked up.)  
In Ray's case, it started with a murder in 1992.  Kim Anacona, a young mother of three and a bartender at the CBS Lounge in Phoenix, was murdered, her body left in the men's bathroom.  Not just murdered, but brutally murdered, sexually assaulted, and left on the floor with a visible bite mark on her breast.  This was a tragedy.  The cops noted
the bite mark on the victim's breast and decided it appeared "snaggle-toothed".  Bar patrons remembered that Ray Krone, who served in the Air Force and later worked for the U.S. Post Office, had crooked front teeth due to a car accident.  Further, they had seen him give Kim Anacona a ride to a holiday party that many bar patrons attended, and saw Ray kiss Kim under the mistletoe there.  Later, when questioned about Kim Anacona, Ray at first said, "Who?"  He'd never known her last name.  This got them suspicious.  Then, when they asked again, "You don't know Kim Anacona from the CBS Lounge?", he replied that he did in fact know the bartender there, a woman named Kim.  The cops were stunned that Ray did not know his own "girlfriend's" last name.  That, of course, is because Ray and Kim were not boyfriend and girlfriend. Their entire relationship outside the bar consisted of that ride to the party and the kiss under the mistletoe.

Because the bite mark seemed like such an important clue, investigators asked Krone if he would submit a bite mark sample, and he agreed. Most innocent people are eager to clear their name and willingly provide fingerprints, DNA & in this case a bite mark, which Krone couldn't know was in fact a highly subjective & non-definitive piece of evidence. The DA asked a forensic dentist employed by the state to examine the bite mark & compare it to Ray's. That dentist on a superficial exam, looking at one, then the other, said, yes, those bites are identical.  This was the day after Anacona was murdered.  And detectives decided right then they had their man. There was no other evidence of any kind. All investigation stopped that day.  This, despite the fact that the lab had identified hairs left at the scene as belonging to someone who was Native American (unlike Ray) and that police had received an anonymous note about the murder of Ms. Anacona stating, "An Indian did it- I saw him behind the CBS bar. He was 6 foot and 200 lbs." Other evidence at the scene included blood of someone other than the victim, but DNA was not yet sophisticated enough to match this blood to anyone, let alone Ray. Shoeprints were also found at the scene belonging to a shoe that was never found. The hair, blood and shoe prints were basically ignored.

Ray's public defender for the first trial made a serious error by not calling another forensic dental expert to challenge the bite mark ID. Clearly a defense lawyer must challenge the one piece of so-called evidence the prosecution is making their case on. This was, no doubt, because Ray's attorney was unaware of the "junk"-like quality of this type of evidence and accepted it as fact. Barry Scheck's "Junk Forensics" had not yet been written back in the '90s. If  Ray's lawyer had spent some time looking he'd have found more than one forensic dentist who would contest the original analysis. In fact, when retrying the case, three forensic dentists stated they were 100% positive the bite marks were not Ray's. One of them had been a longtime expert for the state. So if Ray's attorney didn't know how precarious this type of evidence was, certainly one could not expect the jury to have such information.

In presenting the bite mark, the prosecution used a fancy projection technique to show an overlay of Ray's teeth on a picture of the bite mark, and voila, it looked like a match.  This type of showmanship is typical when "junk forensics" is used. This "evidence" (an expert saying the bite matched Ray), combined with the fact that several people testified that they had seen the two together and it looked very much like they were romantically involved, which
Ray denied.  And, the prosecution stated that the footprints found at the scene were
"CLOSE" in size to Ray's shoe size.  (The shoe prints were actually smaller than his foot and he couldn't have gotten them on. All of this "evidence" was enough to send Ray to death row.  A faulty bite mark "match", and a "close" footprint size.  Ray's lawyer did not challenge that either.

Four years later, at an appeal, three forensic dental experts all testified that they were CERTAIN Ray's bite mark did NOT match the bite mark on Ms. Anacona.  They explained that, while the jaw size might be similar, there were striking inconsistencies.  One definitive
one was that the "biter" had spaces between his lower teeth.  That was clear.  Ray had NO spaces in his lower teeth.  NONE.

Four years later, also, there was more important exculpatory evidence.  The DNA found at the scene had been identified, and it did NOT match Ray Krone.  The footprints could NOT be Ray Krone's because they were a size SMALLER than his.  (It might be possible to wear shoes larger than one's own size, but smaller? Clearly not.)  AND, the hair, which in the first trial was thought to possibly match Ray (from visual examination), was proven NOT to
belong to Ray.  So in this second trial, of course it seemed that Ray would be exonerated.  I was SHOCKED, then, when a jury convicted Ray a second time.  So, too, was the judge, who said that this case "would haunt him the rest of his life" and added that he had serious doubts about the identity of the killer.   However, for whatever reason, the judge did not overturn the jury verdict.  And back to prison, but not death row, went Ray.

For many, that would be the end.  But Ray's cousin, Jim Rix (author of Jingle Jangle) and his lawyer could NOT let this go.  They knew Ray was innocent.  And his attorney
explained that in order to free Ray, for all intents and purposes, they would have to catch the killer.  So his attorney petitioned the court to test the DNA again, not just to exclude Ray (which they had), but to put the DNA through the DNA database and see if they could find who's it was.  As Ray says, the court resisted this, saying it was "a wild goose chase, a waste of the court's time and money... "   But what happened was, it matched a man who was a Native American and a convicted sex offender, currently incarcerated.  A man who Ray's attorney's investigator spoke to and who finally admitted
that he'd committed the crime.

So finally, Ray Krone was set free.  Ten years later.  And actually got a settlement from the state. As the prosecutor said, it's too bad this couldn't have been detected sooner...  Talk about an understatement!  However, I'm impressed he actually admitted that Ray was innocent.  This rarely happens.

Just a reminder folks- Our justice system may be the "best in the world" (although I kind of doubt it), but it is seriously flawed.  And we need to be aware of that.  We have to know that everyone in prison is not necessarily guilty- that jury verdicts are not magical- that juries can be WRONG!

And maybe next time you are called for jury duty, don't try to get out of it.  If those of us who know the system is flawed do not serve, you can see what happens. Thank you Paula Zahn.  Thank you Ray Krone for the dignity with which you walked through this nightmare, and for the work you do now to educate others.  Thank you Cousin Jim for your dogged determination.  What a nightmare!  Let's free the innocent who are locked up and allocate funds for DNA tests.  Please!  

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