Online - The Fight for Freedom Pt. II - A Live Conversation with Photographer Martin Schoeller and Witness to Innocence Exonerees Kwame Ajamu & Ray Krone
Online - The Fight for Freedom Pt. II - A Live Conversation with Photographer Martin Schoeller and Witness to Innocence Exonerees Kwame Ajamu & Ray KroneJan 7 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM, 2021
Join photographer Martin Schoeller for a livestream conversation with Kwame Ajamu and Ray Krone about his current exhibition, Death Row Exonerees. Schoeller discusses his process and collaboration with Witness To Innocence (WTI), the non-profit led by exonerated death row survivors who work to abolish the death penalty in the United States. Ajamu and Krone, whose portraits are included in the exhibition, share their stories of how they were convicted and sentenced to death row for crimes they did not commit and their involvement with WTI.
Donations to WTI are encouraged, but not mandated, at registration.
The Fight for Freedom Pt. II – A Live Conversation with Photographer Martin Schoeller and Witness to Innocence Exonerees Kwame Ajamu & Ray Krone
Livestream interview with photographer Martin Schoeller (NY), Kwame Ajamu (OH), and Ray Krone (AZ). The conversation focuses on the Fotografiska New York exhibition, Death Row Exonerees. Kwame and Ray share their stories of how they were convicted and sentenced to death row for crimes they did not commit. Schoeller discusses his collaboration with Witness To Innocence, the non-profit led by exonerated death row survivors who work to abolish the death penalty in the United States.
Martin Schoeller is known for his close-up, portrait-style photography and photographs of celebrities and public figures including Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, Rihanna, Oprah, Jay-Z, and Willie Nelson. He is also known for his work in commercial photography – including the iconic portrait of Colin Kaepernick for Nike’s campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It.” Born in Germany and based in New York Schoeller began his career as an assistant to the legendary Annie Leibovitz.
About Kwame Ajamu
Kwame Ajamu, Chairman of the Board of Witness to Innocence, was sentenced to death as a teenager in 1975 for a crime he did not commit, along with his brother Wiley Bridgeman and friend Ricky Jackson. He was wrongfully incarcerated for 28 years, from age 17-45. In 2014, he was fully exonerated, having lived 39 years with the stigma of wrongful conviction.
Kwame dedicates his life to death penalty abolition and criminal justice reform. His advocacy for incarcerated people and their loved ones began in prison, where he worked to establish educational programs and mentored fellow inmates. His own future uncertain, he lobbied successfully for a culinary school so others would have employable skills. Today, he lives in Ohio with LaShawn Ajamu, his wife of 16 years, and shares his story with audiences worldwide, including legislators, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel.
Despite his ordeal in a cell just wide enough to stretch his arms, with execution looming, Kwame forgives the then 13-year-old who falsely testified against him, recognizing how he was cruelly coerced by police. He focuses instead on the systemic racism and injustice that hurts not only the falsely accused and imprisoned, but their families and those who work in the system. This story from when he was 17 and first taken to his cell illustrates that impact— I’ll never forget the deputy that came to get me…an older black man. I’ll never forget, he came to the holding cell. And he looked at me and he said, “come on, babe. I have to take you back”…and that’s when I realized that my life would change forever.
About Ray Krone
Ray Krone, Co-founder of Witness to Innocence, spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit. In 2002 he became the 100th person exonerated from death row since the reinstatement of capital punishment in the United States in 1976.
Ray never gave up his fight for exoneration. While incarcerated, he educated himself about the law and supported other inmates in doing the same, helping them in any way he could. He facilitated correspondence for another incarcerated man, who could not read or write, and discovered that the man had signed a confession. He goes to death row [because of the confession] and I know for a fact he could not read or write because there was no way he’d have had me write letters or read letters from his mom if he could understand the written word. In 2002, Ray and his attorney convinced an appeals court that DNA found at the murder scene implicated another man, and Ray was finally exonerated.
Ray quickly became a key leader in the abolition movement, founding Witness to Innocence with Sister Helen Prejean in 2003. He now lives in Tennessee with his partner, Cheryl Naill, and his pursuit of justice continues to this day. His testimony has influenced criminal justice reforms including death penalty abolition in a number of states. Asked why he thinks God would have put him through his ordeal of wrongful incarceration, Ray says, maybe it wasn’t about those ten years, but about the years after that and what I can do with them…I’m a survivor. I went through hardship, but I’m stronger now. I’m better now.
About Ray Krone
Sabrina Butler-Smith was a Mississippi teenager who was convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing. She is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row. On April 12, 1989, teenage mother Sabrina rushed Walter to the hospital after he suddenly stopped breathing. Doctors had attempted to resuscitate the child for thirty minutes, but failed, and Sabrina’s baby died the next day. The very day of her son’s death, Sabrina was arrested for child abuse due to the bruises left by her resuscitation attempts.
Sabrina’s murder trial commenced in March 1990. At the trial, prosecutors sought to prove that Sabrina’s account of the events leading to her son’s death were false, and that she had inflicted the fatal wounds intentionally. Sabrina did not testify at her trial, and was convicted of both murder and child abuse, becoming the only woman on Mississippi’s Death Row at the time.
Following her conviction, Sabrina filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The courts reversed and remanded her convictions in August 1992, declaring that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident. In 1995, Sabrina’s case went to retrial. At the trial, one of Sabrina’s neighbors had come forward with evidence that corroborated her account that the injuries to her son occurred during the course of an unsuccessful attempt to administer CPR. In addition, the medical examiner changed his opinion about Walter’s cause of death, which he now believed occurred due to a kidney malady. On December 17, 1995, Sabrina was exonerated after spending more than five years in prison and 33 months on death row.
Sabrina now lives in Memphis, is blessed with three thriving children, and previously served on the board of Witness to Innocence. She speaks as often as she can to the public and media about her heartbreaking and moving story, and also works with state governments to hopefully change legislation regarding the death penalty.