A honorably discharged former Marine, Kirk Bloodsworth is the first person in the United States exonerated from death row by DNA testing. In 1984 he was arrested for the rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. He was sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1985.
After Kirk’s conviction was reversed in 1986, Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who was serving a sentence for another rape, would later be linked by DNA to the rape and murder of the child. The circumstantial evidence pointing Kirk to the 1984 crime was the testimony of five witnesses who placed him either with the victim or near the scene of the crime. But the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 1986, finding that the prosecution had illegally withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. Kirk was retried and convicted again, and sentenced to two life terms.
In 1992, Kirk read about a new forensic breakthrough called DNA fingerprinting, and lobbied successfully for prosecutors approval for its use on evidence collected at the crime scene in 1985. The tests incontrovertibly established Kirk’s innocence, and he was released in June 1993. In December 1994, Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer granted Kirk a full pardon based on innocence, and he receive compensation.
In addition to his work for Witness to Innocence, Kirk has 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. He previously served as a program officer for the Justice Project in Washington, DC., and is the subject of the book, Bloodsworth: the True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA by Tim Junkin, and of an upcoming documentary by Gregory Bayne, Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man.