Kirk Bloodsworth

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Kirk Noble Bloodsworth (born October 31, 1960) is a former Maryland waterman and the first American sentenced to death to be exonerated post-conviction by DNA testing.[1][2]

He had been convicted in 1985 of the 1984 rape and first-degree murder of a nine-year-old girl in Rosedale, Maryland. By the time an appeal based on the DNA evidence was underway, his sentence had been commuted to two consecutive life sentences. He gained release from prison in 1993 and a full exoneration in 2004.

Conviction and sentence to death[edit]

Bloodsworth served in the Marines, and was honorably discharged at the end of his term. He lived in coastal Maryland, where he worked as a waterman, harvesting shellfish and fish. In 1985 he was convicted of sexual assault, rape, and first-degree premeditated murder in the 1984 case of Dawn Hamilton, a nine-year-old girl in Rosedale, Maryland.[1] Five eyewitnesses stated that he had been with the victim, but he continued to maintain his innocence throughout his trial and subsequent incarceration.[2]

In 1992, while in jail, Bloodsworth read an account of how DNA testing had led to the conviction, in England, of Colin Pitchfork in the killings of Dawn Ashworth and Lynda Mann. This resulted in the use of DNA to gain the exoneration of an earlier suspect in the case, who had falsely confessed to Ashworth's murder. Hoping to prove his innocence, Bloodsworth pushed to have the biological evidence against him tested by this new forensic technique.[2]

Initially, the available evidence in the case — traces of semen in the victim's underwear — was thought to have been destroyed; however, it was eventually located in a paper bag in the judge's chambers. Testing proved that the semen did not match Bloodsworth's DNA profile. In 1993 Bloodsworth was released after more than nine years in prison.[3]

Though released from prison, Bloodsworth was not formally exonerated. In 2003, nearly a decade after Bloodsworth's release, prisoner DNA evidence added to state and federal databases resulted in a match to the real killer, Kimberly Shay Ruffner.[4][5] A month after the 1984 murder, Ruffner had been sentenced to 45 years for an unrelated burglary, attempted rape and assault with intent to murder. He had been incarcerated in a cell one floor below Bloodsworth's own cell. In a 2009 guest lecture at Florida Atlantic University, Bloodsworth said that he and Ruffner sometimes spotted each other during workouts.

In light of the new DNA evidence, Ruffner was charged in Maryland for the rape and murder of the girl; in 2004 he pleaded guilty to the 1984 murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.[6] This resulted in the full exoneration of Bloodsworth in 2004. During his time in prison, Bloodsworth became a Roman Catholic.[7]

Life after prison[edit]

Bloodsworth served as a program officer for The Justice Project. He helped gain support for the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) of 2001, later included in the omnibus Justice for All Act of 2004. Among other federal funding initiatives, the IPA established the "Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program," intended to help states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.[8] Bloodsworth has served as a consultant on the death penalty and a prominent public speaker against it. He helped gain repeal of the death penalty statute in Maryland.

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Bloodsworth is the subject of the documentary Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man (2015), directed by Gregory Bayne.[9]
  • The Bloodsworth case is a three-part series on YouTube's Murder with Friends (2018), a popular Web Series. [10]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bloodsworth: the True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA (2005) by Tim Junkin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kirk Bloodsworth, The Justice Project, retrieved 2009-09-09, Kirk Bloodsworth is the first person sentenced to death row to be exonerated by DNA evidence.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c Marshall, Claire (2009-09-09), I was first death row inmate saved by DNA, BBC News, retrieved 2009-09-09
  3. ^ "Bloodsworth, prosecutor move on to new things". tribunedigital-baltimoresun. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  4. ^ Hanes, Stephanie (6 September 2003). "DNA that freed man leads to new suspect". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  5. ^ Levine, Susan (6 September 2003). "Ex-Death Row Inmate Hears Hoped-for Words: We Found Killer". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Guilty plea closes '84 case of Rosedale girl's murder". tribunedigital-baltimoresun. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  7. ^
  8. ^ 108th Congress (2004) (September 21, 2004). "H.R. 5107 (108th)". Legislation. Retrieved February 4, 2017. Justice for All Act of 2004
  9. ^ Berry, Harrison. "Gregory Bayne's New Documentary 'Bloodsworth' Highlights Justice System Flaws". Boise Weekly. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  10. ^ "Kirk Bloodsworth, Part 1". YouTube. Retrieved 2018-01-15.

External links[edit]