Wrongly Condemned ‘Snaggletooth Killer’ Fights for Change
(‘Once Bitten,’ Forensic Files)
Ray Krone transitioned from civil-service employee to death-row inmate — and then to a free man who travels around the country for a cause.
On December 31, 1991, police arrested Ray and charged him with the sexual assault and stabbing death of bartender Kim Ancona at the CBS Lounge in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ray told police that he and Kim were just acquaintances and he had nothing to do with the homicide, but investigators built a case against him based on gossip and questionable bite-wound science. One of Ray’s teeth protruded in a way similar to a mark that the killer inflicted on the victim.
“They can’t kill a man — they have to kill a monster,” says Ray. “So I was called the snaggletooth killer.”
A court sentenced him to death.
DNA and fingerprint evidence later proved that Kenneth Philips, a 35-year-old convicted child molester, committed Kim Ancona’s rape and homicide. In April 2002, Ray was exonerated and freed after serving a decade in prison.
After his release, Ray met Helen Prejean, the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking. The two started the group Witness to Innocence to draw attention to the plight of the wrongly convicted and campaign against capital punishment. The group’s supporters include Virgin Unite and the European Commission.
Ray’s speaking appearances often draw full houses. “When I spoke at Loyola College,” Ray says, “they had to set up microphones in the back so people who couldn’t fit in the room could hear it.”
It was a long way from the days of being pepper-sprayed and stabbed in prison. Since then, Ray’s story has been told on the Forensic Files episode “Once Bitten” and numerous other media outlets.
Ray also does work to help prisoners adjust to life outside of razor wire.
In an interview with ForensicFilesNow.com, Ray indulged my curiosity about his life before, during, and after serving time, including the advocacy work he does now. Excerpts of our conversation follow:
Can you talk about your early life a bit? I was born in a Pennsylvania agricultural town near York, and the day you’re born, everyone knows about you. I played baseball, was in a church choir, and graduated in the top 15% of my class. I was a computer systems repairman in the military. After that, I was a letter carrier.
Did you have brushes with the law? I had no arrest record, no traffic violations.
How long were you in prison? Two days after the murder, they arrested me and I was behind bars from that time until freedom. Ten years, three months, and eight days.
What’s the food like in prison? In Maricopa County Jail, we had green baloney. They buy food from places that aren’t allowed to sell food anymore.
In prison, is it like Orange Is the New Black, with people separated by race and ethnic group? I don’t watch stuff about prison on TV. I lived it. But yes, inmates group by Black, white, etc. The prison encourages this so you won’t fight with prison guards, you fight each other. Your life is going to be threatened if you don’t stay in your group. This is everywhere except death row.
What’s it like on death row? You’re living alone in a cell. There’s no physical contact with other inmates so the racial dynamic wasn’t there. On death row, we all had an ax hanging over us, so there was some solidarity.
How was it the day you were released? There were media waiting for me when I got out. I wanted to take my $50 in gate money and get some food. I went into a convenience store and saw so much variety — six kinds of iced tea. The first real meal was a burrito. I had to ask the kid for help because microwaves have so many more buttons since the time I went to prison.
And how was it? I couldn’t handle the spices. In prison, the food was very bland. We weren’t even allowed to have salt.
Other small changes? I couldn’t sleep on the hotel bed. It was too soft. I would have gotten seasick.
Why did you start working with incarcerated people? Because 98% of people in jail are eventually going to be let out. We need the transition to be smoother. Life doesn’t just go back to normal. We need to make them viable for society. And to change so they don’t just end up back in prison. We start with a meeting in prison about what their future will be.
What are your feelings toward the criminal justice system? We can make the system better but a lot of people don’t want that. And we’re doing this to children and teenagers.
Tell me about Witness to Innocence. We’re a membership group of death row survivors, a support group. We empower each other to share our personal stories in the quest for abolition of the death penalty. Only those exonerated from death sentences can become members. We don’t take on legal cases.
I’m in a group with about 30 exonerated people who were on death row. Two women were in prison after having been wrongly convicted of killing their kids.
We try to have an annual gathering somewhere around the country when funding permits.
Any luck with Witness to Innocence’s activism? Our members have had a significant impact on judicial reform — including laws named for them.
Have you watched the Forensic Files episode about your case? Yes and I get notes from people all over the world who watch the show, from as far away as Australia. They write me with good wishes.
That’s all for this post. Until next time, cheers. — RR