Kirk Bloodsworth Testifies in Support of Maryland Compensation Bill
Kirk Bloodsworth Testimony in Support of MD SB14
Dear honored members of the Maryland Senate,
My name is Kirk Bloodsworth. I was sentenced to death in Maryland. I spent 8 years, 10 months, and 19 days in prison, 2 years of which were on death row, for a crime I did not commit.
In 1984, I was a recently married, 22 year-old, honorably discharged marine with no criminal history, working as an Eastern Shore waterman when a terrible tragedy occurred. A nine-year-old girl named Dawn Hamilton was found raped and murdered in a wooded area. It would take nearly two decades for Dawn’s murderer to be brought to justice, because I was mistakenly convicted of his crimes. I will never forget the sound of the death row cell door slamming shut like a tail gate of a dump truck.
Years went by, and my lawyers learned that there was another suspect in the case that we had not been told about. More years went by and I learned of DNA technology. When the prosecutor’s office finally agreed to DNA testing, the results showed that the DNA did not match mine. I received a full pardon in December of 1993.
It is not controversial to say that no innocent person should be sent to death row. Nationally, at least 174 people have been exonerated after having been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Once a mistake like what happened to me is uncovered, it should be rectified as thoroughly and as quickly as possible, including compensation for the time lost due to being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.
As you can imagine, much of the damage done by a wrongful conviction cannot be rectified. The lost opportunities cannot be recouped and the psychological impact of facing execution never goes away. Financial compensation cannot fully remedy the effects of a wrongful conviction, but it is absolutely essential. For me, navigating life after a death row exoneration means building and maintaining a future I never thought I would see. The importance of having the financial means to provide for myself and access needed resources cannot be overstated.
In 1994, the state of Maryland paid me $300,000 under the compensation law. I had to use those funds to pay back my father who had shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal costs to save my life. Now, 27 years later, my father is suffering from dementia and requires 24-hour care, and I myself am 60 years old. I have no savings and am living paycheck to paycheck. I have suffered from the stigma of the wrongful conviction. Despite my exoneration, people still believed I did it, which made it hard to get a job. I was homeless for a time.
I have survived financially by being paid for speaking engagements and working for a toolmaker. I am now the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, an organization of men and women from across the country who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. But, in the middle of the pandemic last year, I was diagnosed with liver cancer. Though I have health insurance, I still have stacks of medical bills that I have to pay out of pocket as I AGAIN fight for my life.
Maryland’s current compensation law still gives the Board of Public Works discretion on the amount of compensation it pays. SB14 would provide supplemental compensation to the five exonerees who were compensated prior to 2005. I would then be eligible for $449,178 (State’s Median Household Income X 9 years wrongful incarceration ---$300,000 already paid).
Before being wrongfully convicted, my dream was to own a boat and become a commercial fisherman. I had just gotten married three months before the arrest and my whole life was in front of me. This promising future was unjustly ripped away from me. I missed out on the opportunities to build a career, invest money and save for retirement. But, I’ve done my best to turn lemons into lemonade. I committed myself to a new dream of helping to prevent anyone else from going through what I did. I worked hard to see the abolition of Maryland’s death penalty. I’ve been a tireless advocate for DNA testing and in 2003, Congress established “The Kirk Bloodsworth Post-conviction DNA Testing Program” providing federal funding for post-conviction DNA testing. Today, I stand before you and urge you to support SB14 so that I and others can receive much needed supplemental compensation.