In 1993, Kirk Bloodsworth became the first person on death row to be exonerated based on DNA testing. Earlier this week, local news station WBAL in Baltimore interviewed Bloodsworth about the larger impact of his case and about his life in the 25 years since he was proven innocent of murder. “It feels like yesterday to me,” Bloodsworth said to WBAL.
Bloodsworth was a 22-year-old former Marine when he was wrongfully convicted in 1984 of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl, and was sentenced to death in Maryland. There was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. Bloodsworth was convicted largely based on misidentifications made by several eyewitnesses.
In 1992, after eight years in prison, Bloodsworth received favorable news. Results from DNA tests of crime scene evidence revealed publicly what he knew all along: he was innocent.
“I remember that day I got that Post-It note stuck in my cell door. It said, ‘Urgent! Call your attorney! Kirk, you’re innocent,'” Bloodsworth said to WBAL.
In 1993, Bloodsworth was exonerated.
In the years that followed, Bloodsworth continued to confront further unjust treatment. In 2000, Bloodsworth spoke to the New York Times about trying to rebuild his life post-exoneration. At the time he was working as a crab fisherman. He’d moved from job to job, unable to stay at any one company for long because of the stigma associated with being wrongfully convicted.
“People there wrote anonymous things in the dirt by my truck, and left notes on my windshield—child killer, murderer,” he told the Times. ”This thing completely destroys a person’s life. . . . Every rock, every branch, every grain of your existence is picked up and thrown down into a heap. You have to rebuild, and some people don’t make it. They will never be the same again.”
Ultimately, however, Bloodsworth has used his experiences to foster widespread and meaningful criminal justice reform. In 2004, the federal government established a grant program bearing Bloodsworth’s name to fund post-conviction DNA testing for others trying to prove their innocence. And in 2013, after becoming an anti-death penalty activist with the organization Witness to Innocence, Bloodsworth was present when the Maryland’s governor signed a measure repealing the death penalty.
Today, Bloodsworth is a jewelry artisan, as well as an activist, writer and public speaker on the issues of wrongful conviction and the death penalty. He resides in Pennsylvania.