The Witness to Innocence Board of Directors has selected Kirk Bloodsworth to be WTI’s Executive Director. In November, Kirk stepped up from his role as Deputy Director in order to serve as Interim Executive Director. In this interim role, Kirk did an excellent job working with our member death row exonerees, our staff and board, and all of our sister organizations to strategically and collaboratively carry out WTI’s mission of empowering the leadership of death row exonerees in the movements to abolish the death penalty and reform our criminal justice system.
This marks an important milestone for WTI. To have an exonerated survivor of death row as our Executive Director is a vision we have all been working toward for many years. It brings to life the core of our mission, and we are grateful to Kirk for his steadfastness in shouldering this highly demanding leadership role. Over the past six months, Kirk has been more than the glue holding us together, he has been the cement. He has been a unifier and a voice for his brother and sister exonerees, prioritizing their leadership and their well-being in all matters. He has worked closely with our sister organizations to align WTI efforts with the national and international movements and to provide timely support to state groups in their work.
To say that it has been an eventful few months would be an understatement. We are heartened that three more wrongfully convicted men were exonerated from death row, bringing the total number of death row exonerations to 166 since 1973. We have seen the fruit of our labor manifested in death penalty abolition in Washington and New Hampshire, a moratorium in California, and a strong step toward abolition in Wyoming. We celebrated our 15th anniversary with a highly covered press conference followed by a tear-filled awards ceremony recognizing the importance of our many partnerships. We were deeply saddened by the passing of our members Clarence Brandley and Harold Wilson. Kirk has been a thoughtful and dedicated leader through all of this. Those who know Kirk or his story know that as a young man he was a waterman on Maryland’s Eastern shore. We are honored to have him at our helm as we move forward with the work at hand.
Kirk Bloodsworth Bio
Kirk Bloodsworth is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence. An honorably discharged Marine, Kirk was the first person in the United States to be exonerated from death row based on DNA testing. He is a tireless advocate for death penalty abolition and has traveled the country for over 25 years telling his story and calling for criminal justice reform and an end to capital punishment.
In 1984, Kirk was arrested for the rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. He was sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1985. In 1989, Kirk read about a new forensic breakthrough called DNA fingerprinting and in 1992 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 after nearly nine years in prison, two of which he spent on death row. In December 1994, Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer granted Kirk a full pardon based on innocence, and in 2003, the real killer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Since his exoneration, Kirk has devoted himself to abolishing the death penalty and addressing wrongful convictions. He has testified before the United States Congress as well as numerous state legislatures. Kirk worked in eight of the nine states that have abolished the death penalty in the last 25 years, including his home state of Maryland, where his name was mentioned 64 times during the floor debate in the legislature. He was featured on Oprah twice as well as on CNN’s Larry King Live. He has authored op-eds and given countless other media interviews.
Kirk has been an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act, which is aimed at reducing the risk of executing innocent people. The Act established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program to help states defray the costs of testing DNA evidence after conviction. Though the Act was signed into law in 2004, it took another four years of lobbying efforts to secure federal funding. Kirk fought to ensure that the program in his name was fully funded, and today it provides $10 million per year in federal grants.
The mutual support and comradery of his fellow exonerees has been, and continues to be, of central importance to Kirk. He has been a member of Witness to Innocence since its inception. After teaching himself the art of silversmithing, Kirk created signature “exoneree” and “death row exoneree” 28g sterling silver rings which he has gifted to 235 exonerees to date.
Kirk served as a program officer and consultant for The Justice Project in Washington, D.C. and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. He is currently on the Board of Directors of the Innocence Network where he is one of the first exonerees, and is the first death row exoneree, to join the board. Kirk served on the Witness to Innocence staff as the Director of Communications, Deputy Director and Interim Executive Director before assuming the role of Executive Director. At Witness to Innocence, Kirk is focused on highlighting the voices of fellow exonerees. He places their leadership and well-being at the center of his work.
Kirk is the subject of the book Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA, written by Tim Junkin, and selected for the 2018 “One Maryland, One Book.” His story is also told in the documentary film, Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man, directed by Gregory Bayne.