John Terzano, president of The Justice Project, left, and Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, an exonerated death row inmate, chat Tuesday in the Cornell University Law School's student lounge. Bloodsworth went on to give a talk about his wrongful conviction to law school students in the atrium of Myron Taylor Hall on the Cornell University campus.
Innocent man shares story
By Topher Sanders Journal Staff
ITHACA — The first person to be freed from death row by DNA testing shared his story Tuesday at Cornell Law School.
Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, 47, was wrongly convicted for the 1984 murder and rape of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton outside Baltimore. The case against Bloodsworth relied heavily on eyewitness testimony.
“I told everybody and anyone from the day I was arrested to the moment of my release that I was an innocent man,” Bloodsworth said.
Bloodsworth signed all the mail he sent out while in prison, “A.I.M.: An Innocent Man.”
“I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, what happened to me,” Bloodsworth said. “The problem is my story is not unique.”
Since Bloodsworth's release in 1993, 126 other people have been freed from death row by DNA testing, said Bloodsworth, who is a program officer for The Justice Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works for criminal justice reform.
Law students and the community can learn from Bloodsworth, said John Blume, Cornell Law School professor and director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. John Terzano, president of the Justice Project, also spoke on Tuesday at Cornell.
“The reason I wanted to bring Kirk and John to speak to the law school and larger community is for them to see someone whose life has been fundamentally changed by an error in the criminal justice system,” Blume said. “It's one thing for me to talk about it in my classes, but it's much more powerful and the message is much clearer if it comes from somebody who was clearly innocent and wrongfully sentenced to death for something they had nothing to do with.”
Being sentence to death for a crime he didn't commit was the worst experience of his life, Bloodsworth said.
“It's like you know you can speak, but you open your mouth and nothing comes out or nobody can hear you,” he said. “You're just yelling and nobody can hear you. It's almost like you're a non-person. It's the most horrible feeling that I have ever had to experience in my life.”
Citizens place too much faith in the justice system, Terzano said.
“Americans have the basic fundamental belief that we have a fair and just criminal justice system,” Terzano said. “And what these exonerations have shown is that it's not fair and it's not just and it is systemically flawed. The exonerations have opened the window on the criminal justice system.”
Reform of the criminal justice system is necessary, he said.
“The system is broken,” he said. “It's broken to the point where 78 percent of all wrongful convictions are based on witness identification.”