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Mar 07 2016
From Death Row to Exoneration Thanks to DNA
Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person in the United States to be freed by post-conviction DNA testing, recounts his story of how he was convicted of a brutal murder, and subsequently freed by DNA evidence.
My name is Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, honorably discharged Marine from Cambridge, Maryland. I’m also the first person in the United States to be freed by post-conviction DNA testing.
In 1984, I was an honorably discharged Marine – no criminal record or criminal history. I was charged with one of the most brutal crimes in our state’s history, and that’s the state of Maryland. I was accused of killing a 9 year-old child by the name of Dawn Hamilton, whom I’d never met. She was a cute little 9 year-old child with a pageboy haircut, never hurt a soul – was out playing hide and go seek one morning.
A search ensued for the person last seen with her. This person was described as being 6’5”, curly blond hair, bushy mustache, tan-skinned, and skinny. I’m not skinny. My hair was as red as an apple, or a pumpkin, depending on your point of view. I had side burns down to here, and about 6’ tall. I’d never met Dawn.
As it turned out after I was convicted – twice, I had read a book by Joseph Wambaugh called “The Blooding”, and the first time a new technology was ever used (DNA) in a criminal case, it was two girls over there that were found brutally murdered and sexually assaulted, and there was semen on the scene and on the bodies, and it was tested. They both were the same, so they knew that the killer was the same guy, was one guy.
I wrote the prosecutor a letter in my case, and said, “Look, I want this test to be done. Can you help me to get it done?” She wrote me back a letter, her name was Ann Broxton (sp.). She said, “We regret to inform you (in the letter) that the DNA has been inadvertently destroyed.”
I panicked for about five seconds. They were doing some underhanded stuff – they hid evidence about another suspect, so it’d come to me in that moment of despair that they didn’t know where it was. So, I got my lawyer, his name is Bob Moore, to go look one more time. Sure enough, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Right before he gets ready to leave, he sees the court clerk in my second trial in the hallway. He said, “Bob, what are you doing here?” He said, “I’m looking for the Dawn Hamilton evidence in the Kirk Bloodsworth case.” And he said “I know where that’s at.” It was in the judge’s closet in a paper bag in a cardboard box sitting on the floor. There was the evidence I needed.
The rest is history. I became the first person in the United States to be freed by post-conviction DNA testing from a capital conviction, which was death row and double-life. I received a full pardon from the Governor. I received $300,000 for my trouble.
But, what puzzled me the worst was who killed Dawn Hamilton? We had to find that answer out. I was sitting in my office one day. They’d finally tested the evidence into CODIS. It was the same prosecutor – the woman who called me a monster in two trials on the other line. She was calling me “Mr. Bloodsworth” this day though.
She said, “We have an update on the Hamilton murder and we’d like to talk to you.” I met her in town in my hometown and she said, “We have a cold hit for the real killer of Dawn Hamilton.” And he was not 6’5”, he was 5’6” and 160 pounds. The tragic thing about it was he slept in the same prison with me in a tier below me for five years. He never said a word.
Dawn finally had justice. He pled guilty to her murder. “Did it alone while he was high”, he said. He just didn’t remember I was in there for it. Dawn Hamilton finally had justice and so did I, because of DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid.
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