Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Exonerated death row survivor fights capital punishment in Kansas

April 15, 2013


Kirk Bloodsworth wants the death penalty abolished in Kansas. And in every other state, and in every nation across the world. He’s absolute on that point, and many feel he has a right to be that way.

The death penalty almost killed Bloodsworth in 1985, when he was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. The former Marine was exonerated by DNA testing in 1993, and travels the country as the advocacy director for Witness to Innocence, an organization of exonerated death row survivors. Bloodsworth visited Kansas for the first time Monday, at the invitation of Kansas University student groups, and told his story at the Kansas Memorial Union. It’s a frightening story, and Bloodsworth hopes that the more people hear it, the more will agree with him that the death penalty isn’t safe to use.

Some Kansas lawmakers and judges already agree with him, and a bill to abolish the death penalty is awaiting action in the Legislature.

“I really don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Bloodsworth said. “We’re fallible people. We try the best we can, but we could get it wrong.”

Kirk Bloodsworth

Kirk Bloodsworth

In Bloodsworth’s case, the police, the prosecutors, the judge and the jury got it wrong. He was 22 years old in 1984, a Marine with an honorable discharge and no criminal record. He was nowhere near the wooded area in Maryland where 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton was found raped and murdered, her head crushed by a piece of concrete.

Even so, he was found guilty and sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Md. He spent nine years in the state’s most punishing and violent prisons before becoming the first death row inmate in the country to be exonerated by DNA evidence. Part of his challenge now is to help people understand how easily it can happen.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” Bloodsworth said.

It started when a neighbor, thinking Bloodsworth resembled a police sketch of the murder suspect, called authorities, who were under intense pressure to solve the shocking killing. Five witnesses testified to seeing Bloodsworth near the scene or with the victim, but they were wrong.

In prison, Bloodsworth occupied a cell directly above Kimberly Shay Ruffner, a convicted rapist who would later be linked by DNA to the rape and murder of Dawn Hamilton. Ruffner did not particularly resemble the police sketch circulated by authorities.

Bloodsworth was released from prison in 1993, after DNA testing showed he was innocent. His story sounds incredible, but Bloodsworth is just one of 142 people in the U.S. to be sentenced to death and later found innocent. Hundreds of more people convicted of crimes, like Kansans Eddie Lowery and Joe Jones, have spent decades in prison before being exonerated.

Bloodsworth and like-minded advocates were successful in getting the death penalty repealed in Maryland this year, and the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty is making a similar effort in Kansas.

"I finally killed the thing that almost killed me," Bloodsworth said of the repeal in Maryland. "You can free a man from prison, but you can't free him from the grave."

Kansas Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, a former judge, introduced a bill in March that would replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole. In many states, this produces significant savings in prison budgets, and the measure would take that money to establish a fund to assist families of homicide victims.


Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 5 years, 2 months ago

I am a retired peace officer with 30+ years of service. I disagree with the death sentence. Many people like Mr. Bloodsworth are being found innocent due to DNA. Once society kills someone, it is too late for them to be exonerated. That is why I feel as I do. It actually costs more to put someone to death, than to house and feed them for many, many years. My concern is not about money. It is like once a bullet leaves a gun, it cannot be called back. If that makes it simple to understand.

Anthony Mall 5 years, 2 months ago

"many people" what??? the article clearly says "142"... That's less than one percent of violent criminals currently in prison... There is no perfect system, however, him being cleared years later proves that the system worked as soon as technology caught up... In todays court system the death penalty is rarely used unless DNA, videos, and a nun witness the crime... Unfortunately cases still occur where the death penalty is warranted... A few examples would be multiple cases if child molestation, mass shooters, serial rapist/muderers, and acts of terrorism... We must remember that over 99.5% of these men are extremely dangerous and the victims (if they are still alive) have to live with the pain, scars, nightmares, and fear FOREVER.. Victims families have the right to closure as well... As little as the death penalty is used it still needs to be an option for some of these cases...

Shelley Bock 5 years, 2 months ago

RC79 is confusing "death row" numbers with "violent criminals currently in prison". Many, 142 as indicated in the story, is compared with those on death row which is, I would guess, between 500-1000. This not the thousands who are incarcerated as "violent criminals".

Abolishment of the death penalty is moral, just and the correct act. I'm glad to see a Republican House member take this step forward.

Dudley Sharp 5 years, 2 months ago

As reviewed, the 142 "exonerated" is a scam. Possibly, the number is about 33.

8300 have been sent to death row since 1973. That is about .04%, all of whom were released from death row.

Anthony Mall 5 years, 2 months ago

Bob, if you take 142 that have been set free after being convicted years before DNA and how many DNA has kept in prison you could see... I also explained how today it takes more than DNA to sentence anyone to death and it is only used in extreme situations... ... What I said was it still needs to be an option for certain crimes... You can take one sentence out of what I said and twist it but please read everything... Funny, you didnt mention anything about victims or their rights... Just took one sentence and ran with it..

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

So, executing someone turns back the clock, and undoes the crime, while locking them away doesn't? Care to explain how that works?

Anthony Mall 5 years, 2 months ago

It doesn't undue a crime... I said again "today it takes more than DNA to sentence a CRIMINAL to death" some of you seem so worried about the criminal and ignore the crime... Someone who stabs someone 27 times after raping them should die when they are found guilty, DNA proves it, and they are seen leaving the scene... Yes, some sick people who commit horrible crimes should be killed!!! Absolutely!! Think about the victims and their families before worrying about what to do with the criminal...

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

What is your evidence for the assertion that "today it takes more than DNA to sentence a criminal to death?" I don't believe this is a valid assertion. DNA as evidence of guilt exists in only a small percentage of cases. Off the top of my head, I can think of one case that made national news and resulted in a death sentence without any DNA evidence. I am confident there are many, many others.

Anthony Mall 5 years, 2 months ago

My point is that without DNA and other evidence the death penalty is usually not asked for... Robert Keith Coleman 18 man executed in this country proclaimed his innocence for years, the pope, time magazine did a story and everyone thought he was innocent....I mean the mountain of evidence against him wasn't enough because he was articulate, good looking.guy... He was put to death... DNA proved he raped, sodomized, stabbed, and cut his sister in laws throat... Yes, he deserved to die!! The shooter in colorado doesn't need DNA to kill him... He wont be put to death, unfortunately he will still get Christmas cards, call home, and watch cable... The victims don't receive any attention, their names you forget because your so worried about one criminal and you forget the 1000's of victims...

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

And my point is your point isn't accurate.

Anthony Mall 5 years, 2 months ago

Did you provide anything? Is DNA used in every case? No... When it is needed along with other evidence it is absolutely used... In death penalty cases where DNA is a factor yes it used... In any case where DNA is found it is used... Typically the coward pleads guilty when facing the death penalty after DNA proves his/her guilt...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

So your rationale for the death sentence boils down your desire to see someone killed.

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

You claimed that in the absence of DNA, the death penalty isn't sought. That is all I was responding to because that claim isn't accurate. You are making all sorts of general claims (like the pleading guilty thing, too) that aren't accurate. If you're going to support the death penalty, it would be better if you could base your support in how it actually works, not how it works in your mind.

ferrislives 5 years, 2 months ago

I think that the focus is in the wrong place. How about putting more focus on fixing the problem as to why innocent people get convicted in the first place. It's not just death row inmates that are affected by this issue. That's the real problem, and getting rid of the death penalty won't contribute anything towards fixing the source of the problems. However, I could see a temporary moratorium on executions until those core problems are solved.

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

While I disagree with the death penalty in all cases, I was thinking along the same lines in terms of false convictions. I don't know if the system is flawed or if it is corrupt people working the system---probably some of both.

We know by now that eye witness identification is not at all reliable and yet it is still used to convict. Of course, the biggest problem seems to be prosecutors who are only interested in a conviction and not justice.

But even if the system were perfect I would still fight against the death penalty in all cases.

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

"Among the lowest of the dead: the culture of death row" by David von Drehle

Anybody interested in studying the death penalty should read this book. It's a fascinating study about both sides of the issue and the effect it has on all involved.

Too often people make knee-jerk reactions and assumptions about this kind of issue.

Dudley Sharp 5 years, 2 months ago

von Drehle is totally anti death penalty.

If you want a book that really looks at both sides, these two have authors who are well known pro or anti.

Two best books for an even and balanced review of the death penalty.

The Death Penalty: For and Against, by Jeffrey Reiman and Louis P. Pojman, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997)

Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Case, edited by Hugo Adam Bedau and Paul Cassell, who are also included authors. (Oxford U Press, 2004)

NOTE: The Opposing Viewpoints Series on the death penalty/capital punishment has, over decades, provided the best, most evenly balanced reviews of this debate. Publishers Greenhaven Pres and/or Gale).

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

He became anti-death penalty after he did the research for the book. He does present both sides.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 2 months ago

This was another case where fear and outrage caused the prosecuters to hurry up the conviction to persuade the family and community that justice had been done, and swiftly. I imagine media scrutiny played a part.

The article says that the police sketch did not resemble the true killer. I find this to be extremely troubling.

Acting in a red hazed lust to electrocute someone, no matter how justifiable the emotion is, is not going to end rape and murder. It is violent vengeance pure and simple and I do understand why people would really want to see this happen.

Clark Coan 5 years, 2 months ago

The general trend worldwide is toward abolishing the death penalty because it is considered barbaric and inhumane. Life without parole works just as well. Actually, I'd like to see the US buy some islands in the Pacific and put all of the murderers, terrorists, and other dangerous offenders on them. Let them homestead: build their own houses and grow their own food.

Armored_One 5 years, 2 months ago

Okay, why exactly does it cost more to kill a death row prisoner than it does to feed, house, heat, cool, provide medical care, and employ people to manage not just those inmates, but to maintain the structure in which they are housed?

I see no problem with the death penalty, personally. There are crimes from which there is no redemption, or at least there shouldn't be any. If you cross that line, then your life should be forfeit. I hear/read so many comments about how it's cruel and inhumane to kill them. Well, why is their life so much more important than the ones that they destroyed in the commission of whatever crime they commited?

Would you be so forgiving if it was your significant other? Your child? Really simple to look at someone else and say just get over it and move on. I doubt the vast majority would be so forgiving to find out their child was assaulted and killed by some monster posing as a human being.

I have no regret or remorse in saying I'd gladly volunteer to stare right into the eyes of the man or woman that hurt my child like that and ensure my face followed them to Hell, and that face would have a grin on it. Act as high and mighty and altruistic as you want. How many of you would volunteer to live next door to a convicted pedophile released from prison, instead of a graveyard where one was buried?

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Probably because of the many and lengthy appeals.

The question about the death penalty is, if it's so terrible for the criminal to kill somebody, why is it good for the state to do it?

Nobody has said "get over it and move on", as far as I can tell. But, killing the guy who killed your loved one won't bring them back. And, although it's certainly understandable to want revenge, we should consider whether or not that's a good motive for our criminal justice system to operate by.

Armored_One 5 years, 2 months ago

Do a head count on how many people are sentenced to life without parole. Calculating just 25,000 bucks a year to feed, house, clothe and care for these parasites, 100 of them is over 2 million bucks a year. Take a stab at 25 years life span in prison, and you are over 50 million bucks.

Now add in 5 salaries for 5 guards, say 35,000 bucks a year, 165,000 bucks a year, times the same 25 years. Why are these parasites worth that much money? I have no qualms with employing the guards, but I can absolutely find a much use for 50 millions bucks than feeding someone like Charles Manson. You notice ANY remorse coming from him? If they had empathy, they wouldn't have done it in the first place, so put them out of everyone's misery and put them down.

Maybe that 50 million could go towards medical research, or tax reforms, or keeping the blasted roads in one piece through the winter. Heck, it might even finance education reform so it's effective again.

No, let's keep them alive, waste millions upon millions every single blasted year, accomplish less than nothing but have joy joy feelings about ourselves for being 'enlightened'.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

You seem to dispute the idea that it costs more to execute people than to keep them in jail. Maybe you should do a little research and find out. I've heard numerous times that's the case, and that it has to do with appeals.

A very quick search provides a lot of evidence that the death penalty is actually more expensive for states and the feds than life imprisonment.

Do you want to spend more money for the satisfaction of seeing somebody executed, or save money by not executing people?

Armored_One 5 years, 2 months ago

Oh, I have done quite a bit of reading, but I have yet to see a cost breakdown on why is costs so much more. California seems to be a favorite for the comparison, but all the reports say is that is costs 90,000 bucks more to house them on death row than in the general populace. Well, logic would dictate keeping them in general population, wouldn't it? Why do they need to be housed in some special place?

As to the appeal process, perhaps they shouldn't get to appeal each and every single little thing that ever occurred in their case. Naturally it will cost more to reexamine each piece of evidence with one entire court case. Trim the fat.

Do you think that POOF inmates will simply not care if they are given a life without parole sentence and will not contest each and every ruling that was ever considered, let alone made, in their original trial?

If something is wrong and/or broken, then you fix what is actually wrong, not just shuffle paper around, clear your throat a couple of times, and ignore it until it's out of sight, thus making it out of mind. These parasites do NOT deserve better care and treatment than law abiding citizens that have done nothing wrong, but yet do not get access to the medical care, dental care, and all the other crap that prisoners are given. You want to talk about fair, how bout dealing with that little nugget of reality instead of worrying about whether swabbing the injection site for a lethal injection is moral or not. God forbid that they should go to Hell with an infection.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, one google search provided a site with lots of evidence, and lots of data, from different states and the federal government.

The reason for appeals in death penalty cases is to make absolutely sure we got the right guy, since it's a final penalty, and we can't go back afterwards if we got it wrong. I wouldn't want to take those away by any means.

That's an interesting point, that inmates get health care - they also get housing and food. Should we just throw them in dungeons like we used to, and not feed them, letting them suffer from whatever diseases they get? Oh wait, there's something in our Constitution about "cruel and unusual punishment".

I also find it ironic that we keep them healthy up until the day we execute them, and also prevent them from killing themselves. But those ironies disappear if we eliminate the death penalty.

If you really think that life in jail is a great deal, I suppose you could commit a crime that would put you there. Personally, for me, I never want to be in jail, even for a short time.

Armored_One 5 years, 2 months ago

Uhmm, for starters, how about the utter nonsense that death row inmates get single occupancy. That right there jacks the price up. With today's ability to telecommunicate, we can eliminate more cost for transportation and increased security during said outings to the courthouse because they want to contest the placement of a comma.

I think it's bogus that the state can set up a well maintained, well regulated health industry in a prison system, but for the average citizen, well, since they aren't causing a problem, they don't matter as much. The same thing goes for housing and food. Why do the inmates deserve cable television, Internet access, and a host of other luxuries provided by the taxpayers when most of the taxpayers have to choose between those luxuries and other ones, such as heat or food?

And just how does the ironic nature of keeping them healthy and preventing suicide change if we don't kill them? You do realize that we food the bill for any and all medical procedures, up to and include chemotherapy for cancer, which I personally know runs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention educating them above and beyond high school equivalency. How many inmates that are in for life have acquired bachelor degrees, if not higher? I wonder who foots the bill on THAT activity?

You say it's cheaper to keep them alive. I say stop coddling them and giving them as many luxuries and make prison something that should truly be avoided. How many kids from the 'inner city', or whatever other PC term you want to use, get a free ride to college?

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, I might agree that we could spend a bit less, in a variety of ways.

But, that would apply to all inmates, not just death row ones, so there would probably still be more costs for death row ones, unless we take away their right to appeal or other costs associated with the fact that it's an irreversible penalty.

If you want a well maintained well regulated health care system run by the state, then advocate for that. The only thing stopping it is that a lot of folks don't seem to want it, or are scared of it, realistically or not.

The irony is that we're keeping them healthy and alive up until the moment we kill them. If we're going to kill them, what difference does it make if they're healthy right up until the end? But, if we're not going to kill them, the irony is gone. Should we just let them get sick and die then?

If you really think prison is such a great place, then commit a crime. I think even with some of the things you mention, it's a place to be avoided. You really think that people commit crimes so as to get a life sentence in order to get a college degree??

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't want the government in the murder business. And while you may gladly hire on to be the state's executioner, I wouldn't want to live next door to you or any other hired government hit man any more than I'd want to live next door to Charles Manson.

Armored_One 5 years, 2 months ago

So what, exactly, is the point of life without parole?

Armored_One 5 years, 2 months ago

Then death would work just as well, since only on AMC do you find the dead up and moving around.

Dudley Sharp 5 years, 2 months ago

The death penalty is cheaper.

There are three states, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas were the death penalty is most likely less expensive than life without parole.

I posted a review of those in this comment section, but, evidently, it takes a while to approve linked comments.

Virginia executes within 7.1 years of sentencing and has executed 72% of those so sentened, or 108 murderers, since 1976. All states could be responsible and work to emulate those protocols.

That would be less expensive that life without parole (LWOP) in all states, I suspect.

Of course, LWOP cases can appeal for life.

In addition, geriatric care costs for LWOP is enormous, in the range of $50,000-$100,000 per inmate per year.

And there is the death penalty cost benefit of being able to plea bargain a case to LWOP, a plea which goes away if the death penalty is gone.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

According to my quick research, it's more expensive in a lot more states than three.

And, even your post says "most likely" less expensive.

Given that our system is clearly not perfect, and innocent people are convicted of crimes, how many innocent people are you willing to have executed by mistake? For me, even one is too many.

If, in order to speed up the process and save money, we remove some of the thoroughness of the process before executing people, that's likely to result in innocent people being executed, or the rights of the person facing execution to be diluted, neither of which pleases me.

Once we kill somebody, there's no way to go back and reverse that. If they're in jail, we can always let them out. That's why it makes sense to make absolutely sure we've got the right person, and that all of their rights have been protected, before we kill them. Doing that costs money, and takes time.

HootyWho 5 years, 2 months ago

I usually disagree with the death penalty, but in some cases, ( the Karr brothers from Wichita) i think its not used enough, those two shouldn't be drawing breath anymore, and its a pity that they are.

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

While it seems counter-intuitive that the death penalty costs more than life in prison, many studies support that fact.

The first article below is a history of the death penalty in Kansas. The second and third are two of many listed about cost.

I can't give you a source on this because I read it in the mid-1980s and can't find it now, but it was reported that around 23 people had been wrongly executed in the United States in the 20th century. That was before DNA evidence was being used and the article pointed out that there were probably more, because after executions, people tend to quit looking for evidence.

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

In reply to the conversation above, it's not just the appeals process but the trial itself that costs more money.

The death penalty is not applied equally---it is heavily weighted by economic status and race, both of the victim/s and the defendant.

Kansas has not executed anyone since 1965, when it was done by hanging. I think the gallows have been taken down. Maybe we could send our excutees to Texas, I hear they have a lot of practice, although so far they haven't executed a corporation.

Dudley Sharp 5 years, 2 months ago

The 142 "exonerated" is a well known fraud, easily discovered by the most basic of fact checking, which even the New York Times did and found a 66-75% error rate in the exoneration claims, in ine with the other reviews, finding a 70-83% error rate.

a) The 130 (now 142) death row "innocents" scam

  b)  The "Innocent", the "Exonerated" and Death Row


The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy and THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

Interesting. Two websites and the name Dudley Sharp keeps showing up on both of them.

By the way, one case is one too many.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

A quick search provides an "innocence list", showing 142 freed death row inmates.

It names all of the people, when they were freed, how long they were in jail, etc.

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