PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- For the last 20 years, Arizona inmates have been able to petition the courts to have DNA evidence from their case run through the national database to try and prove their innocence.
A new state law passed this week heading for the governor's desk will expand access to fingerprints, firearms, and all the local and national law enforcement databases detectives use right now to solve cold cases.
Nineteen years ago, Ray Krone was released from the Arizona Department of Corrections, the 100th death row inmate to walk out of prison a free man after spending a decade behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. Arizona's Family was there when he walked out of the courthouse on April 8, 2002.
"I can't dwell on what I've lost or what used to be because I think that would tear me apart. I'm gonna look at it with brand new eyes, brand new hope, brand new dreams," he said at the time.
After spending 3 of his 10 years in prison on death row, Ray Krone started losing hope.
"I'm thinking, oh my god, I'm going to die in here for something I didn't do," Krone said.
He was convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of Phoenix bartender Kim Ancona at the CBS Lounge & Restaurant. Crime scene detectives found fingerprints, shoe prints, saliva, blood, and hair. None of it matched Ray.
He was put away on circumstantial bite mark evidence multiple experts disagreed on in court. A retired detective who reviewed the case at the time said it was a tragedy that could happen to anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In 2001 a judge ordered the newly accredited Phoenix Police crime lab to run the DNA evidence from Ray's case the original detectives never even bothered to put in the system.
"And that's when everything changed for me. Finally, after almost ten years, DNA results came back with a match to another man," Krone said.
Kenneth Phillips, a convicted sex offender, later pleaded guilty.
And here's the kicker: Phillips' prints that were never run before Ray's trial had been in the system since the '80s. So even if the DNA in Ray's case hadn't been preserved for some reason, that could have been used to prove his innocence. Except here in Arizona, like in most other states, inmates aren't given legal access to the fingerprint database and other forensic archives -- until now.
"Fingerprints, ballistics, all those things have evolved over the years, and our system needs to keep up with that. Even somebody who's been locked away 10, 15, 20 years, if you're innocent, you don't quit fighting!" Krone said.
Arizona lawmakers just unanimously passed a new law, SB-1469, that lets innocent people behind bars, like Ray, access the same law enforcement databases detectives use to solve cold cases.
Lindsay Herf is executive director at the Arizona Justice Project.
"People can look at (Ray's) case now, and it is such a clear-cut innocence case, and they can look at the fingerprints, and they can look at the DNA, but it wasn't like that for 11 years. And that's why the use of this forensic testing and these databases in seeking the truth is just SO important!" Herf said.
Herf says they get about 400 calls a year from Arizona inmates asking for help to review their case. She says of the 2,729 exonerations in the United States since 1989, about 2,200 came from reviewing evidence other than DNA; 10 involved fingerprints, 16 used firearms forensics.
"Our justice system it's run by people, and people make mistakes, and we need to be able to correct those mistakes," Krone said.
Ray hasn't taken a day of his freedom for granted. He founded the nonprofit Witness to Innocence fighting to give hope to others who are innocent behind bars.
"This isn't about freeing guilty people. This isn't about being soft on crime. This is about getting to the truth and having an opportunity to release those that are innocent, and only then can we actually find who truly was guilty," Krone said.