Longform

About Face

Spring is coming, and buds now speckle the granite gray woods of southeastern Pennsylvania with forest green. The sun is shining, the melting snow is glaring. It's all so bright that Ray Krone needs sunglasses.

He'd like some Oakleys. Something functional but stylish to go with the new hair and Chiclet-white new teeth he got from the television show Extreme Makeover. You know, something to wear on the way to all those speaking engagements. He will soon break out his sky-blue, mint-condition 1974 Corvette from the shed.

Off with the top. Spring air. New hair. Styling. Cruising.

It's a significant improvement over Arizona's death row -- where he lived from 1992 to 1995, after he was wrongfully convicted of the brutal murder of a cocktail waitress at a downtown Phoenix bar.

In 1995, he received a new trial, but then was reconvicted based almost completely on the word of a bite-mark expert who nine other forensic dentists said was wrong.

Even the judge, who gave Krone life imprisonment instead of the death penalty he had received at the conclusion of his first trial, was aware something was wrong:

"The court is left with a residual or lingering doubt about the clear identity of the killer," Superior Court Judge James McDougall wrote after sentencing.

It took six more years before a judge forced the police and prosecutors to turn over evidence in the case for retesting.

Numerous pieces of that evidence, which Phoenix police and Maricopa County prosecutors had been sitting on for 10 years, not only showed no link between Krone and the murder, it all clearly pointed to another man, Kenneth Phillips.

Krone was released from prison in 2002, fully exonerated.

He just won a $1.4 million settlement from Maricopa County for the bad work of county prosecutors. He still has a case against the City of Phoenix, which should bring him millions more for the stunning ineptitude of police and lab technicians in the case.

He plans to buy a farm near his Pennsylvania hometown and far away from the state that incarcerated him.

So, yes, he's happy -- most of the time.

And, yes, he can forgive -- most of the time.

But it's still situational forgiveness. How could it not be?

Just drop the name Noel Levy, the county prosecutor who slaughtered Krone's character and ignored testimony from genuine dental experts while twice landing a wrongful murder conviction on him.

Or Phoenix Police Department homicide detective Charles Gregory, who also ignored evidence pointing to the real killer.

Or forensic dental expert Ray Rawson, whose bogus testimony was the foundation of both of Krone's convictions.

Or crime lab technician Scott Piette, who for some reason never tested hair, blood and fingerprints taken from the crime scene that were left by the man now believed to have committed the murder, Kenneth Phillips, who is already in prison for other violent sex crimes.

As Krone learns more through his lawsuit against the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County, filed in 2002 soon after he was set free, it becomes clearer that these four men -- Levy, Gregory, Rawson and Piette -- are the reason Krone spent a decade in prison for a murder he did not commit.

A nor'easter is crawling up the coast toward eastern Pennsylvania this spring day, and Krone's knuckles turn white on the steering wheel.

It's the taxpayers who will have to pay for the incompetence of these men, he growls. It should be these guys who pay, he says. They should taste just a few moments of the decade of hell they put him through. Something.

"You know, if it was just a series of mistakes, and these guys would have stood up and apologized, I think I could completely get over it," he says as he drives. "But that's not what happened. They grabbed me and then built a case out of nothing, and then they covered it up. As I'm forced to see more clearly what they did to me, it's really tough not to be angry.

"And beyond that, as a citizen, it's just scary as hell."

Indeed.

Because as more is learned about the investigation and first conviction of Ray Krone in 1992 for the brutal murder of Kim Ancona, the more it becomes clear that police and prosecutors could have grabbed just about any Valley resident and escorted him to death row.

Just as bad, Phoenix police ignored numerous clues that pointed to the actual killer, Phillips, thereby leaving him on the streets to strike again.

Krone didn't lose 10 years, four months and eight days of his life. He had them stolen.

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Robert Nelson