When guilt or innocence is a matter of life or death
In 1993, Kirk Bloodsworth became the first man to be spared the death penalty thanks to DNA evidence
One man’s wrongful conviction highlights the perils of the death penalty
Kirk Noble Bloodsworth doesn’t want to get into details about what life was like in prison for the eight years, 10 months and 19 days he spent in a Maryland penitentiary for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Prisons aren’t a good place to be, especially for someone accused of something like that – it was awful,” said the 52-year-old, the first US death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA testing. While behind bars he was subjected to attacks by other inmates but he fought back. “I gave as good as I got,” he said.
Newly married in 1984, Bloodsworth was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton whose body was found in leaves after a game of hide and seek. Two boys wrongly identified Bloodsworth as the killer. He had recently moved to Rosedale, a suburb of Baltimore County, after being discharged from the Marines. A jury took just two hours to sentence him, then 22, to death.
While in prison Bloodsworth read how scientific evidence had been used to find a killer in an English town of 5,000. “This was where I had my epiphany – if it can convict you, why can’t it free you?” he said.
He applied for his case samples to be DNA tested. The results showed he was not Hamilton’s killer. He was released from prison an innocent man on June 28th, 1993 after two years on death row.
“As soon as I got out, they executed a guy who was right behind me, who was next in line. They executed him the same time they gave me a pardon,” said Bloodsworth.
Witness to Innocence
Now part of the Philadelphia-based Witness to Innocence non-profit organisation that campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty, Bloodsworth believes Maryland is close to repealing capital punishment.
A bill pushed by the state’s Irish-American Democratic governor Martin O’Malley to abolish the death penalty in Maryland advanced a step further last Thursday when a key senate committee approved the legislation for the first time, sending it to the full chamber for a vote this week.
O’Malley, tipped as a possible Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election, has put the repeal of capital punishment and gun control legislation at the top of his agenda.
Maryland, where five prisoners remain on death row, would become the 18th state to ban the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without a chance of parole.