- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | A Maryland man who was the first person in the United States confined on death row to be later freed because of DNA evidence urged a state commission Friday to move swiftly to at least reform capital punishment in the state.

“I’m living proof that Maryland’s capital punishment system is broken, and I’m living proof that Maryland gets it wrong,” Kirk Bloodsworth said.

Mr. Bloodsworth, who testified before the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, spent more than eight years in prison and two of them on death row after wrongly being convicted of killing a 9-year-old girl.

“I am very lucky to be here in front of you today,” Mr. Bloodsworth told the commission. “Make no mistake about it: I am not here because the system worked. I am here because … a series of miracles happened that led to my exoneration.”

Mr. Bloodsworth, who is a member of the commission, urged the panel to recommend that biological evidence be preserved and handled properly in storage to prevent loss or damage.

His own case, he said, required diligent and devoted work by an attorney who believed in his innocence and paid for DNA testing out of his own pocket.

“Advocates for petitioners should not have to go on a treasure hunt in order to find evidence in order to submit it for post-conviction DNA testing,” Mr. Bloodsworth said.

He also said Maryland should provide counseling for post-conviction cases and cover costs associated with DNA testing for people who cannot afford it.

“The time is now … because the next Kirk Bloodsworth could be a dead man,” Mr. Bloodsworth told the commission.

Mr. Bloodsworth summarized his harrowing experience of becoming “the most hated man in Maryland.” He described a prison life as “hell on earth,” an experience that still causes him nightmarish visions of “that long walk to the gas chamber.”

He wept when he told panelists about his mother dying while he was in prison and the five minutes he was allowed at the funeral home to view her body as he wore shackles.

Mr. Bloodsworth was twice convicted of the girl’s 1984 murder and spent two years on death row after his first trial. The second trial brought another conviction, although he received a life sentence instead of capital punishment, before eventually being cleared in 1993.

Mr. Bloodsworth was joined by several other former inmates who spent time on death row and were later freed.

One of them was Randy Steidl, who was freed from an Illinois prison in 2004 after a team that included top attorneys and a private investigator found that evidence used to convict him of murder in the 1986 stabbing deaths of a newlywed couple was flawed. He spent 17 years in prison, 12 of them on death row.

“If you want to guarantee never executing an innocent person, then repeal the death penalty and impose the alternative of life without parole, because you can always release an innocent man from prison,” Mr. Steidl said. “You can’t release him from the grave.”

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