The state of Arizona released Ray Krone from its death row late Monday evening after being exonerated by DNA testing. Krone was the 100th known person to be exonerated and released from a death row in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1972. The exoneration underscores the problems in our nation's death penalty system, death penalty reform advocates said.
Ray Krone was convicted of the stabbing death of Kim Ancona in 1991. He was sentenced to death in 1992 but the sentence was overturned three years later. One year later he was tried and convicted again, this time, sentenced to life. Krone maintained his innocence throughout and was finally exonerated as a result of DNA testing.
"Ray Krone's story is a chilling example of how poorly our death penalty system works," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "We now know of 100 people who were exonerated, giving ample evidence that time and time again the system fails to render justice. What we don't and will never know is how many innocent people have already been executed. It's time for a moratorium on executions."
California has exonerated three people from its death row, one in 1988, one in 1990, and one in 1996. The most comprehensive review of death penalty cases every undertaken, led by Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman, found that California's trial courts produced an extremely high level of error in capital verdict cases 87% of capital verdicts in California were tainted with an error serious enough to prejudice the outcome.
"A lot of Californians think we're better than other execution states," said Ripston, "but Liebman's study showed that our system generates error after error at the trial court level: how can we be sure we catch them all, even after three reviews? Inadequate counsel, prosecutorial suppression of evidence, discrimination on the basis of income, geographic and ethnic disparities, induced jailhouse testimony -- these are all problems in California, too."
"We have a double standard of justice in America" one for the rich and another for the poor," said Diann Rust-Tierney, director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "A rich man can hire a lawyer who will investigate the facts and skillfully prepare and present his case. Poor man's justice too often means a lawyer who literally and figuratively sleeps on your rights -- a case without investigation or adequate preparation."
Ripston identified other discrepancies in California's system, as well, including jury pools in which people of color are under-represented as a result of "death-qualifying" the jury, the under-representation of people of color among California's district attorneys, and geographic discrepancies.
"Income, color, and geography play a role in who gets sentenced to death in California," said Ripston. "We don't have a consistent standard of justice in this state."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has joined hundreds of other groups, including the NAACP, the San Francisco Labor Council, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, and others, in calling for a moratorium on executions in California. Californians for a Moratorium on Executions is a coalition project of Death Penalty Focus. The group, which works closely with sister Helen Prejean's national Moratorium Campaign, was inspired by the action of Republican Governor George Ryan, of Illinois, who instituted a moratorium in his state after the thirteenth person was exonerated from Illinois's death row. Californians for a Moratorium on Executions brings together groups and individuals who may have different philosophies about whether the death penalty is right or wrong in principle, but who agree that the current system isn't working, and that we should not continue executing people as long as that is the case. More than 275 groups have signed the resolution calling for a moratorium in this state, and over 55,000 Californians have signed petitions also asking fora "time out" on executions.
"With more than 600 people on California's death row, I'm deeply concerned about the number of them that might be innocent," said Missy Longshore, CME campaign coordinator. "Its time for a moratorium in California."
CME will officially launch its California campaign on May 1 with its first annual "Moratorium Day." Events will include a march on the Capitol in Sacramento, and presentation of more than 65,000 signatures calling for a "time out" on executions to Governor Gray Davis by religious, human rights and grassroots leaders.
"We need a moratorium now. We simply can't tolerate an error-prone and inconsistent system when we're talking about life and death decisions," said Ramona Ripston.