uary 22, 2007
Wrongly convicted man speaks out on time spent behind bars
By Jonathan Vit, Gloucester County Times
CAMDEN Eight years, 11 months and 19 days, that is how long Kirk Bloodsworth
spent in prison, wrongly convicted twice for the brutal rape and murder of a
nine-year-old girl who was found half-naked, her skull crushed in a working
class area of Baltimore County.
That is one year and 12 days short of a decade that Bloodsworth spent in the
Maryland Penitentiary, carrying the stigma of a child-killer like a
bull's-eye until DNA evidence reversed the courts findings in 1993.
Now, 14 years later, Bloodsworth is speaking about his time behind bars,
making a stop at the United Methodist Church in Mantua Township Monday night
with the New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
During his speeches, Bloodsworth recalls his days in the Maryland
Penitentiary and explains how the criminal justice system failed him.
"If you can execute an innocent person than the system is broken," he
The moment Bloodsworth walked into the ominous black brick prison he felt
the weight of his conviction. In the prison hierarchy, convicts in for
killing or raping a child are at the bottom of the list.
"Anything that you see on television, it is a grain of salt, it does not do
it justice," Bloodsworth of his time behind bars. "I would see someone get
stabbed every other day, then everyone would calm down and get along. It is
not sinister, it is more like insidious because you don't hear anyone
scream, it happens out of earshot."
From his cell, the prison's air ducts carried the whispers of his fellow
inmates, each calling for his death.
Outside his cell the words became more than threats. In the shower one
inmate threw a hot, soapy wash cloth in his face before splitting the back
of his skull with a sock full of batteries. Another stabbed him in the calf
with a shank.
"You are the filth from the bottom of their shoe," he said pointing to his
sneaker's sole. "People throw feces on you, (they threw) a bottle filled
with urine and feces on me while I was reading my bible."
He was serving time on a life sentence, two years of his eight on death row
in a cell directly under the gas chamber. One day, the chamber was tested
with a live pig while Bloodsworth sat in his cell beneath, listening to the
gas take effect.
"I swear you could hear the squealing going on," he said. "It was bad."
Through it all Bloodsworth maintained his innocence, he appealed his
conviction only to be found guilty again.
He read like a madman, devouring some 3,000 books in his eight years until
he came upon Joseph Wambaugh's The Blooding, a book detailing the true-life
capture of Colin Pitchfork a man who raped and killed two girls in
Narborough, Leicestershire through DNA fingerprinting.
"I figured if it could convict someone it could set someone free," he
In 1992 the courts tested DNA evidence gathered from the crime scene,
determining that Bloodsworth could not have been the killer.
Finally, in June of 1993 became the first man in America ever to be released
from Death Row from DNA evidence, an experience that he described as the
happiest moment in his life.
"You check your lottery numbers and win the mega millions," he said. "It
couldn't compare (to that day)."
And the DNA evidence didn't only free Bloodsworth, it found the real killer,
a man named Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who was serving time in the same prison
as Bloodsworth for a series of similar crimes.
"He slept in the same prison for five years," Bloodsworth exclaimed. "I gave
him library books and saw him working out in the yard. All those years he
never said anything."
Less than 24 hours after he was released, Bloodsworth began talking about
his time inside, eventually becoming an activist who champions causes that
examine the criminal justice system.
In New Jersey he appeared before a bipartisan death penalty commission
appointed by former-governor Richard Codey. On Jan. 2, the commission
recommended that the state abandon the death penalty, calling for life in
prison without parole as a suitable alternative. Governor John Corzine
supported the commissions findings and the legislature is currently working
with their suggestions.
"We don't want to see the convicted murders released," explained Abraham J.
Bonowitz, field manager for New Jerseyan's for Alternatives to the Death
Penalty. "Even if you like the idea of a death penalty, the evidence shows
that it doesn't work in the current system."
New Jersey currently has 11 people on death row, including Sean Padraic
Kenney formerly Richard Feaster who sits on death row for the 1993 killing
of a Deptford gas station attendant. The state has executed 361 people
sentenced to death, but has not executed anyone since 1976.
Kirk Bloodsworth was featured in the book "Bloodsworth,
will appear at the United Methodist Church in Mantua Township tonight at
Source : Gloucester County Times