WASHINGTON – His life could have ended in the Maryland gas chamber,but today Kirk Bloodsworth is free,laughing and smiling as he promotes a book that bears his name and tells of his narrow escape.
“This man has become a spokesman for justice all over the world. This man,who was the subject of the most unimaginable injustice,has become a force for justice,” said Tim Junkin,author of “Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA,” referring to the subject of his book. “And I've found that to be truly an act of grace.”
The two men discussed Junkin's book at the Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse here Monday.
Bloodsworth,43,a Baltimore native,was convicted of raping and killing 9-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton in Maryland in 1984. After breakthrough DNA testing of semen found on the girl's panties,Bloodsworth was released from prison in 1993.
He and Junkin,a Maryland lawyer and author,met through Bloodsworth's defense lawyer. Throughout the years he was in prison,Bloodsworth maintained his innocence. Last year,DNA evidence linked a convicted sex offender whom Bloodsworth had known in prison to the girl's death.
Now Bloodsworth is a full-time lobbyist for criminal justice reform at the Washington-based Justice Project. He is also keeping busy with a 25-city book tour,making stops along the East Coast and in traditionally pro-death penalty states like Texas.
A bill to fund DNA testing for convicts and to help states clear a backlog of DNA tests in pending criminal cases passed the House last year 357-67.
A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch,R-Utah,and co-sponsored by an additional 38 Republicans and Democrats,is pending in the Senate and has received strong bipartisan support,according to Bloodsworth and others.
If it passes,the bill would grant any inmate convicted of a federal crime the right to petition for DNA testing to support a claim of innocence.
In a Judiciary Committee statement he made last year,Hatch said the bill would ensure that DNA technology is used to exonerate the innocent and punish the guilty. The Republican senator said he is committed to making sure that forensic evidence is analyzed and that criminals are punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Asked who the bill's opponents in Congress are,Bloodsworth joked,“The senators from Texas,Alabama and Arizona. Yee haw.”
And Sen. Jeff Sessions,R-Ala.,does oppose the bill. “This is a political bill that should be killed as dead as a door nail,” Sessions said in a statement. He said the bill would “take $100 million in federal taxpayer funds and give it to anti-death penalty groups for the defense of murderers and terrorists.”
Bloodsworth said politics is slowing the bill's move through the Senate,twisting the word to sound like “a pile of ticks.” He was adamant that the bill will not lead to a needlessly expensive set of DNA appeals by inmates who are not innocent.
“No,there's nothing frivolous about it,” he said. “I wouldn't think that any innocent man sitting on death row now deserves the death penalty.”
The National Institute of Justice estimates there is a backlog of more than 300,000 untested rape kits in the United States.
Bloodsworth said increased funding for DNA tests in rape and homicide cases will improve the quality of the justice system,helping to prove the innocence of those who may be wrongfully incarcerated.
All 100 members of the Senate were sent copies of Junkin's book. Bloodsworth said he hopes it makes them weep.