DNA used in exoneration? Yes
Reasons for wrongful conviction:
Mistaken witness identification
Kirk's Wrongful Conviction
An honorably discharged Marine, Kirk Bloodsworth is the first person in the United States to be exonerated from death row based on 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.
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. In 2003, the real killer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Kirk's Work Today
Kirk currently lives in Philadelphia and is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence.
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 camaraderie 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.
Written by Tim Junkin
Selected as the 2018 One Maryland One Book
Documentary directed by Gregory Bayne released in February 2016
"The remarkable true story of the 1st death row inmate exonerated by DNA in the U.S."
In The Media:
6.26.13 From Death Row To Free Man
7.22.20 Wrongful Conviction