“I feel very lucky.”
That’s the answer you get when you ask Kirk Bloodsworth how he feels about having been wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 1984 when he was 22. He was the first American sentenced to death row who was exonerated by DNA, although his death sentence had already been commuted to two consecutive life sentences by the time the DNA evidence proved his innocence.
“You’re talking about a person who was basically saved by half of one cell. A cell the size of a mustard seed saved my life. I always think of the Bible and how Jesus said, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for you.’ I knew I was an innocent man, and that trumped everything for me.”
Bloodsworth, who is 55, was released from prison in 1993, after having served almost nineyears, two on death row. For the past 22 years, he has worked to change the U.S. justice system, lobbying for the abolition of the death penalty, and stressing the importance of DNA testing. He was instrumental in getting Maryland to abolish its death penalty, and in 2004, President George W. Bush signed into law the Kirk Noble Bloodsworth Post Conviction DNA Testing Program, which provides block grants to states to pay for DNA testing for convicts.
“I never expected to be an activist,” Bloodsworth says. “I thought I was going to be a fisherman. We each have our own destiny somehow.”
152 people have been exonerated from America’s death row since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. This, combined with his own personal experience, are the reasons Bloodsworth keeps working to reform the system.
”I just want to show the country how dangerous the death penalty is. Life without parole is the best option. At least that way, if you’re found innocent, we can get you out.”
A documentary about Bloodsworth’s case, “Bloodsworth – An Innocent Man,” is scheduled for worldwide release early next month. Three years in the making, the film was partially financed by a Kickstarter campaign.
In October, Catholic University of America partnered with the European Union (EU) Delegation to the United States to host the premiere of the film in Washington, D.C. Part of the European Union’s Rendez-Vous series, which features senior EU and U.S. leaders discussing significant current issues, the event was held in conjunction with World and European Day Against the Death Penalty, which took place on October 10. According to a joint resolution released on that day, the European Union and its 28 member states are strongly opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances: “The death penalty is inhuman and degrading treatment, does not have any proven significant deterrent effect, and allows judicial errors to become irreversible and fatal,” the resolution read.
As Bloodsworth knows all too well, the risk is too great that those judicial errors mean innocent people will be executed. “I lived to tell the tale,” he says. ”You never know what kind of intestinal fortitude you have until you’reforced into an impossible situation. It left an indelible mark on my life, but there’s no sense in being bitter. Bitterness is not going to help me regainthose years. I’d rather laugh than cry.”
And he’d rather work at reforming a system that stole nine years of his life. “I’ve been doing this work a long time, educating the general public, telling my story. I would suggest to everyone I know that the death penalty will end in our lifetime. I do believe that it will end in mine; at least I hope I can live to see that. My motto is never give up.”