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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Exonerated death row survivor fights capital punishment in Kansas

April 15, 2013

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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.

Comments

jafs 12 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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dudleysharp 12 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 http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

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

http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-innocent-exonerated-and-death-row_19.html

=======

The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy and THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-innocent-frauds-standard-anti-death.html

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verity 12 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.

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verity 12 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.

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/kansas-1

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/03/27/just-cost-death-penalty-killer-state-budgets/

http://www.michigandaily.com/opinion/02viewpoint-swaying-public-radical-facts20

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.

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HootyWho 12 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.

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ShePrecedes 12 months ago

Kansas GOP touts life for things that cannot breathe on their own, ...

... and loves killing things that can breathe on their own, like talking about taking pot-shots at illegals immigrants from a helicopter as if they were game.

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Armored_One 1 year 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?

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Clark Coan 1 year 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.

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Leslie Swearingen 1 year 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.

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verity 1 year 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.

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The_Original_Bob 1 year ago

"What I said was it still needs to be an option for certain crimes..."

"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..."

You've done talked yourself into nothingness.

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ferrislives 1 year 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.

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The_Original_Bob 1 year ago

"That's less than one percent of violent criminals currently in prison..."

So, you are saying it is ok to kill a few innocent people to ensure some guilty ones get killed? Wow.

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reality_check79 1 year 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...

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Lynn731 1 year 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.

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smitty 1 year ago

Reform of systemic problems is not an easy task. Thank you Mr Bloodworth for your commitment to the truth about about our legal system.

.....From there, with the police and prosecutors under intense pressure to solve the crime, it was a short route to trial, conviction and a death sentence ....

....Only after nine years in the state’s most decrepit and violent prisons did Mr. Bloodsworth, through his own perseverance and some aggressive lawyering, manage to get the still-novel DNA test that finally proved his innocence in 1993

... He tried to return, he said, to “a normal life,” but he was haunted by what he had learned about the justice system.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/us/exonerated-inmate-seeks-end-to-maryland-death-penalty.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0 ....Prosecutors and jurors ignored glaring problems with witnesses — two were boys who did not pick Mr. Bloodsworth out of a lineup — and dismissed five alibi witnesses who testified that he was home at the time of the murder.

“The adversarial system doesn’t know who’s guilty or who’s innocent,” Mr. Bloodsworth said. “The millstone does not know who’s under it.”.....

Sounds famliar in cases other than death penalty also...ignored evidence, ignored errors in evidence, false testimonies while satisfing the pressure of public attention in a high profile crime for PR spin.

What undeniable technological advances are in the works to detect false convictions? ...iris scans or maybe brain scans.... for the prosecutors, LE, and witnesses as well as the charged.... in order to discourage LE and prosecutors "mistakes"

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