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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
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First man exonerated by DNA speaks at AU

Video: Full speech

Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man to be exonerated from death row by DNA evidence, worked to fight the death penalty in Maryland, he said at an event in the McDowell Formal Lounge on April 16.

“I killed the only thing that had ever tried to kill me,” he said.

Bloodsworth, a former crab fisherman and Marine from Cambridge, Md. recanted the details of his case before fielding questions from the crowd, at the event hosted by Justice, Law & Criminology Professor Robert Johnson’s Honors colloquium on Extreme Punishments.

Bloodsworth was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 for the rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. Bloodsworth’s trial lasted about two weeks and his conviction rested on witnesses who said he was at the scene. He spent nine years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.

“I think the case would’ve been scrutinized more had it been another victim other than a nine year-old child,” Bloodsworth said. “They got myopic, they went crazy. None of it was done with any kind of reasonable logic.”

Shortly after DNA evidence exonerated Bloodsworth, the same evidence linked another man Kimberly Shay Ruffner to the crime. Ruffner was in prison on another rape conviction at the same time as Bloodsworth and occupied the cell directly beneath his. The two lifted weights together in prison before Bloodsworth was exonerated.

Though Bloodsworth knows that his work against the death penalty will keep Ruffner off of death row, he says that protecting the wrongfully convicted is more important than punishing the guilty.

“We have to save Ruffner in order to protect a person like me,” he said. “I don’t want to give him that but I have to, and I would make that decision in every state of the union.”

Acclimating to life outside of prison wasn’t easy for Bloodsworth.

Though his record was cleared, he said he still carried a stigma that made it hard to find work and establish his social life. He was awarded $300,000 from the state, but about a third went to legal bills and Bloodsworth has been homeless three times since his release.

“It was hard to cope when I got out,” he said. “I was still stuck in 1984.”

Bloodsworth is producing a documentary about his experiences using the $25,000 he raised through a Kickstarter. He expects to release the film later this year.

Though his life hasn’t been easy since his release, Bloodsworth said he found peace in helping catch the real culprit and ending the death penalty.

“I feel like I’ve come full circle,” he said. “They caught the guy who did it and they ended the death penalty, so now I feel like I’m so cool I have to wear shades.”

Watch: The Eagle’s Interview with Kirk Bloodsworth

Video courtesy of in collaboration with The Eagle.

 Hosts Sara Winick and Sydney Hsu introduce themselves and talk about their favorite TV shows. This episode includes fun facts, recommendations and personal connections. 

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