Happy Freedom Day to Kirk Bloodsworth!

Today Kirk Noble Bloodsworth is celebrating 20 years of freedom. He was released from prison in 1993, becoming the first person in the U.S. who had spent time on death row and was freed because of DNA evidence.

Kirk was sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1985 for the rape and murder of nine year old Dawn Hamilton based on circumstantial evidence and faulty eyewitness testimony. The following year the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, finding that the prosecution had illegally withheld exculpatory evidence from the the defense. Kirk was tried and convicted again and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1992, Kirk read about DNA fingerprinting, and was able to get prosecutors to agree to use it to test evidence that had been collected at the crime scene. The tests proved Kirk’s innocence and identified the real perpetrator, Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who was serving a sentence for another rape. In December 1994, Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer granted Kirk a full pardon and he received compensation. Both the DNA evidence that led to Kirk’s release and the compensation he received are rare. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, of the 142 death row exonerees in the U.S., DNA played a substantial factor in establishing innocence in only 18 cases.  The Innocence Project also reports that only 27 states compensate the wrongfully convicted, and the requirements, amount, and length of time it takes to receive compensation varies widely. 

Kirk now works as the Director of Advocacy for Witness to Innocence. He travels the country, sharing his story of wrongful conviction and advocates for repeal of the death penalty. He played a significant role in Maryland’s successful campaign to end the death penalty earlier this year. According to his biography on Witness to Innocence’s website, Kirk has also been an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) since its passage by Congress in February 2000. The IPA established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, a program that helps states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.

You can watch videos of Kirk’s powerful story here and here.

(Photo of Kirk on The Colbert Report on March 4, 2013 wearing his DNA tie. Via colbertnewshub.com)

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