When guilt or innocence is a matter of life or death
According to Witness to Innocence, 142 death row inmates have been exonerated, including 18 due to DNA testing. The organisation also helps secure compensation for those who are released. Bloodsworth received $300,000 after he walked free, or $3.72 for every day in prison. He is campaigning now for a federal compensation fund to be created for former death row inmates.
There were 43 prisoners executed in the US last year, though the bulk of them were clustered in Texas, where 15 inmates were put to death, and in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arizona, which were each responsible for six executions. The four southern states accounted for more than 75 per cent of the executions in the US.
Support for the death penalty has declined in recent years. Maryland would be the sixth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment after New Jersey became the first state in 23 years to repeal the death penalty in 2007. New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut have followed since then.
The last inmate to walk free was as recently as December when Seth Penalver was acquitted of three murder charges in Florida after 13 years in prison. He is the state’s 24th exonerated death row prisoner.
“The biggest issue is the mistakes and Maryland had a very glaring one [with Kirk Bloodsworth’s case],” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre in Washington DC.
“The fact that the wrong person might be executed has caused ripples. The whole system has slowed down because of the rightful fears that mistakes could have been made. You now have executions not going ahead because people are getting skittish about the death penalty.”
Montana and Colorado may be the next states to move to abolish the penalty as politicians vote on repeals later this year, Dieter said.
“We have had a 75 per cent decline in death penalty sentences since 2000, a 50 per cent drop in executions, fewer people on death row and public opinion that is supportive – all of these are signs of a move away from the death penalty,” he said. “Now politicians can say they have real reservations about the death penalty and still get elected.”
Bloodsworth says that the abolition of the death penalty across the US is only a matter of time because of the number of innocent people, like himself, who have been sentenced to death over the years.
“It can’t happen soon enough for me,” he said.