Kentucky Roundup - Public News Service - DNA and the DP in KY | Kirk Bloodsworth Speaks at KY Forum

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Steve Hall

Nov 13, 2014, 2:57:01 PM11/13/14

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                Public News Service - KY - DNA and the Death Penalty in Kentucky

                Central Kentucky News - From death row to freedom, America's first death row exoneree speaks at Centre

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November 13, 2014 | Public News Service - KY


DNA and the Death Penalty in Kentucky

by Greg Stotelmyer | Public News Service - KY


FRANKFORT, Ky. – State Sen. Robin Webb says more needs to be done to make sure Kentucky does not execute an innocent person.


So, when lawmakers return to Frankfort in January, Webb says she will file a bill to address concerns about biological evidence, lineups, interrogations and mental health issues.


Webb admits, she personally is conflicted about the death penalty.


"You know, the thing is, we have it, I don't think it's going away and we've just got to make it fair and make sure that justice prevails," she stresses.


It was just three years ago, next month, that the American Bar Association released a report outlining the myriad of ways Kentucky does not "ensure the fair and efficient enforcement of criminal law in death penalty cases."


The report found that there have been a number of cases where biological evidence sought for retesting has been lost or unavailable.


Webb, who represents three counties in northeast Kentucky, says a bill passed in 2013 (House Bill 41) did expand access to DNA testing.


But, she says more needs to be done to protect the preservation of that biological evidence.


"And preserved for the entire period of incarceration for these individuals and even if a perpetrator has not been captured, or there's an open case, that this evidence has got to be maintained, and be maintained properly," she says.


Webb filed a bill during last winter's legislative session (Senate Bill 202), but it did not come up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Rev. Pat Delahanty, who chairs the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, says while the Coalition is happy with efforts to reduce chances of executing the innocent, there's a better solution.


"The best thing to do is to repeal the death penalty and keep in place that very reasonable, common sense punishment of life without parole that protects all of us and ensures that we never put an innocent person to death," he says.


Delahanty points out that the American Bar Association report has raised so many concerns – with 95 recommendations for change to the death penalty law – that it would take millions of dollars to fix.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2014 12:43 pm | Central Kentucky News


From death row to freedom, America's first death row exoneree speaks at Centre



In a powerful convocation Tuesday at Centre College, the first American exonerated from death row through DNA testing urged students to “stand up for what you believe in.”


Hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the convocation noted the estimated 120,000 innocent people unjustly incarcerated today, including some who have been sentenced to death.


Kirk Bloodsworth, an honorably discharged Marine with no criminal record, was 23 years old and newly married when he was arrested in 1984 for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Cambridge, Maryland.


In 1985, he was convicted of sexual assault, rape and first-degree premeditated murder and was sentenced to death.


During his incarceration, Bloodsworth spent two years on death row until his death sentence was commuted to two consecutive life sentences, and even though five eyewitnesses placed him as the last person to be seen with the victim, he continued to maintain his innocence throughout his trial and subsequent incarceration.


According to Bloodsworth, there was “absolutely no physical evidence” to tie him to the murder of Dawn Hamilton, who was raped and beaten to death on July 25, 1984.


And yet, despite no physical evidence and questionable eyewitness accounts, he was convicted.


“The gavel came down on my life,” said Bloodsworth, recalling the day he was found guilty of the highly publicized rape and murder.


The key witnesses to tie him to the murder were two boys, ages 8 and 10, who saw Dawn walk into the woods with a man while they were fishing at a pond. They described the man as a 6-foot-5-inch white male with curly blond hair and tan skin.


The greying Bloodsworth said he had red hair at the time, didn’t tan and was about 6 feet tall.


A composite sketch was drawn up from the boys’ descriptions, and a neighbor who thought Bloodsworth looked like the man in the sketch published in newspapers and broadcast on television called the police tip line.


The mistakes made during the investigation, especially in how Bloodsworth was identified as the suspect were ludicrous at best, according to Bloodsworth.


The composite sketch that led to his arrest was not drawn up per the boys’ description to the sketch artist, Bloodsworth would later learn. He would also learn that the boys were able to see his actual face on television before making their final identification.


“Of those exonerated of their crimes, 78 percent of wrongful convictions are due to eyewitness accounts,” said Bloodsworth.


While in prison — which Bloodsworth described in horrific detail and said “smelled like pain” — he read about a new forensic breakthrough called DNA fingerprinting in a book written by Joseph Wambaugh, “The Blooding.” The book described the new technique developed by British geneticist Dr. Alex Jeffries, which was used to find the famous Narborough murderer in England.


“This book was my epiphany,” said Bloodsworth. “I realized if DNA can convict you, why can’t it free you?”


Bloodsworth said he phoned the prosecutor and began to lobby to have the evidence tested. However, no one could find the evidence that would clear his name. Bloodsworth had one of his lowest moments when he was told the evidence “had been inadvertently destroyed.”


His lawyer continued to search for the evidence, however, at Bloodsworth’s request.


In a providential encounter, the lawyer was checking the evidence room once again when he ran into a legal clerk, who off-handedly asked him what he was doing there. When the lawyer told him, the clerk said, “Oh I know where it is. It’s in a paper bag in a cardboard box in the judge’s closet.”


“In April, I had a message that there was an urgent call from my attorney,” said Bloodsworth. “When I got on the phone, he was screaming, ‘You’re innocent, man, you’re innocent!’ and I screamed back, ‘I know!’”


The tests established Bloodsworth’s innocence, and he was released from prison in June 1993 after spending nearly nine years in prison.


The DNA evidence from the murder was added to state and federal databases and was able to identify the real killer as Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who was previously twice convicted for the attempted rape of two other girls. He pleaded guilty to the murder of Dawn Hamilton to avoid the death penalty.


Bloodsworth said Ruffner was positively identified as the killer through DNA testing, but he was not the 6-foot-5-inch man the 8- and 10-year-old key witnesses said walked away with Dawn. Ruffner was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 165 pounds.


In a cruel twist of irony, a month after the 1984 murder, Ruffner was sentenced to 45 years for an unrelated burglary, attempted rape and assault with intent to murder and was incarcerated in a cell one floor below Bloodsworth’s own cell.


“The most horrible thing about this whole thing was that that cat slept in a tier below me for five years and never said a word,” said Bloodsworth. “He came into the library where I worked, and we worked out in the gym together and he never said anything.”


Ruffner was originally a suspect in the little girl’s murder for which Bloodsworth was convicted, but despite his previous convictions, police never followed up on him once eyewitnesses identified Bloodsworth.


Bloodsworth said he always had the support of those close to him, who knew he couldn’t have done the crimes for which he was convicted, including his mother, who died just five months before his release.


“My mom always told me, ‘Right is light,’” said an emotional Bloodsworth. “And she said, ‘If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything.’”


Receiving a full pardon by the governor of Maryland and $300,000 “for his pain,” Bloodsworth said he began his fight to abolish the death penalty and advocate for post-conviction DNA testing.


He says he has forgiven those who falsely accused him, convicted him, called him vile names and screamed for his death.


“I’ve forgiven everyone, because hate will kill you,” he said. “There’s just too much hate, and I didn’t want to do that, so I gave it up.”


Bloodsworth said he often thinks about the little girl who lost her innocence and her life that summer day in 1984 and whose death “turned his life upside down.”


“She is a part of my life,” said Bloodsworth. “A little girl I never even met.”


Today, Bloodsworth is the director of advocacy for Witness to Innocence and works with 147 other death row exonerees, including one woman, to “be a powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States.”


“I cannot support capital punishment if I know that an innocent man can be executed,” said Bloodsworth.


He is also an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act 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, according to the Witness to Innocence website.


A film documenting his ordeal, “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man” will be released in the spring.


The title comes from the salutation he used in every correspondence he wrote. He’d end letters with his name followed by AIM — an innocent man.


In ending the convocation, Bloodsworth urged students to be strong in their convictions.


“You must stand up for what you believe in, like my mother said, you must get up, sit up, hold your head up and never give up in this life,” said Bloodsworth. “Whatever you do, do it with integrity and do not cut corners. You must stand up to life in everything.”

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Follow Pam Wright on Twitter, @pamwrightAMNews


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Steve Hall

The StandDown Texas Project

PO Box 13475

Austin, TX  78711


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