by Cecilia LaFrance
Anna Ray stands with a companion in a back corner of a third floor senate committee room during a break at the Capitol on a Wednesday afternoon. Ray’s reserved composure and tentative glances around the high ceiling and ornamented room set her apart from others who move with purpose and familiarity among each other. For the past three hours, she’s listened to proponents and opponents of Senate Bill 19-182 present testimony for or against the state’s capital punishment. Ray didn’t sign up to speak amid the lineup of district attorneys and other passionate voices. But, she leaves no doubt of her support of The Death Penalty Repeal Act. “I want my husband to get off Death Row and eventually come home.”
Ray is married to one of the three men currently sentenced with the death penalty in Colorado, Robert K. Ray. He was convicted for ordering a murder that resulted in the killing of a man and his fiancé in 2005. The proposed legislation, backed with Governor Jared Polis’ support, has the potential for Ray’s sentence to be commuted to life without parole.
“Robert is the best human being I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.” Sitting outside the hearing room, shoulders straight and hands calm on her lap, Anna answers how she’s become Ray’s advocate and wife. Anna met Robert in November, 2015, through an online prisoner pen pal program. His picture was featured on the front page. Eventually, Anna wrote Robert. “Then a friendship blossomed and then more.”
Anna moved to Denver from California to be near Ray. She attended his hearings seeking a new trial. “I saw literally every despicable thing the DAs did to bring him down.” Ray’s first legal team butchered his case, she says. “I don’t know how it was able to get to this.” She mentions payments to witnesses and withheld information. “He didn’t kill anybody or tell anybody to kill anybody.”
Anna and Robert married two years ago. Ray sees her husband two times a month at the State Penitentiary in Canon City. They talk at least once a day. Anna cites his humor, intelligence, and care. “He’s my biggest support system and I’m his biggest support system.” He wants her to be her best and to succeed, she says, encouraging her in her work and daily life.
“He always will give the shirt off his back to someone in need,” Ray says. To positively contribute to society from inside prison, last year Ray wrote a children’s book call Stereo What?! to educate youth on the dangers of stereotyping. “He got the book published and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Attending the Senate hearing is one way Ray supports her husband, and she holds some hope for the outcome. However, multiple legislative attempts to repeal the death penalty have failed within the recent past. Regardless of how the bill progresses, Ray says she and her husband’s biggest goal is to get a new trial. “I couldn’t imagine my life without him.”
“Robert wants the world to know that he’s not just sitting in his cell doing nothing. He’s actively finding ways to help people, because that’s what brings him joy. His life is productive, it’s meaningful, it’s filled with laughter and love, generosity of spirit and most importantly, his life is worth saving.”
Ray isn’t concerned with negative comments aimed at her husband or at her. “If we’re happy and in love, then it’s really no one else’s concern.”
Outside, traffic on Colfax Avenue thickens as others end their business day. Ray quietly steps back into the Capitol’s formal hearing room, where opposing voices compete to influence the state’s delivery of justice.