On Heels of Successful Death Penalty Repeal in Maryland, Exonerated Death Row Prisoner, Kirk Bloodsworth, Urges Delaware Senate to Follow Suit

In Statement to Executive Committee Determining Fate of Senate Bill 19, Bloodsworth

Highlights Wrongful Convictions as Grounds to Abolish Capital Punishment

Dover, DE – Today, less than a week after Maryland’s legislature passed Governor O’Malley’s bill to abolish the state’s death penalty, Kirk Bloodsworth, exonerated death row prisoner, current advocacy director of Witness to Innocence, and former Delaware waterman, addressed the Delaware senate’s executive committee to announce his support of Senate Bill 19 with the following statement:

Distinguished members of the committee, I am Kirk Bloodworth. I am here to urge you to repeal the death penalty in Delaware for one simple reason: human beings are not perfect. No one knows this better than me, an honorably discharged Marine, who served my country as a Military Policeman (MP). I had no criminal record and found myself on Maryland’s death row for a crime I did not commit.

I’m from Cambridge, Maryland – Dorchester County, just a few miles from the state line, and I did a lot of growing up here in Delaware. I came of age working with my father as a waterman on the Chesapeake. We sold a lot of soft crabs, hard crabs and crab meat to distributors and restaurants over in Seaford, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany & Dewey. I’ve been going across on the Lewes – Delaware Ferry since 1969, I worked on cars at the Georgetown dirt track, and we always looked forward to the Apple Scrapple Festival and the state fair in Harrington. My family has friends all over this state.

I sat in a courtroom while the state of Maryland brought in witness after witness who looked me in the eye and said I was the one they saw that day. The states attorney called me a monster, the jury convicted and a judge sentenced me to death to cheers across the courtroom. I was humiliated and the weight of being convicted for a crime I did not commit hung heavy on my shoulders.

In my case, I cannot blame corner cutting and errors. The late Ann Brobst, the prosecutor in my case was very smart. The judges in both trials were smart, the homicide detectives were smart, and by all accounts the two juries I had were smart and concerned citizens. But in the end every single person involved in the case of the State of Maryland vs. Kirk Bloodsworth was dead wrong. And I am alive despite my wrongful conviction.

I know that you care about wrongful convictions. Who among us wants to imprison or even execute the wrong person? I respect Delaware’s legal system, but in the end that system is run by human beings, and we can all make mistakes. There is a real possibility that an innocent person in Delaware could be sentenced to death and executed. The National Academy of Sciences recently found that the state of forensics in the United States is abysmal. Scientific tools are only as good as the people using them and, we already know, even the best, most well intentioned, can make mistakes. Crime labs across this country regularly make mistakes in DNA recovery and analysis. Indeed, 27% of all wrongful convictions exposed by DNA technology involved false confessions and perjury. A 2005 study of 340 wrongful convictions across the country showed that perjury was the most common factor contributing to wrongful conviction in murder cases. Perjury committed by jailhouse informants, co-defendants, state forensics experts, police, or even the defendant himself. What reform can eliminate such failures? A system run by human beings just can’t be foolproof and at the end of the day, it’s a catch-22: the more we try to prevent wrongful convictions and errors, the longer and more painful we make the process for victims family members. This is an untenable conflict and we can’t have it both ways.

I recently started a new position. I am the advocacy director of Witness to Innocence, a national organization started and run by men and women who have been exonerated from death row. We share similar misfortunes but they all occurred for very different reasons. Sometimes people make mistakes, sometimes people lie, sometimes we think we know more than we do.

Delaware can’t afford to be wrong. We can’t afford what it does to victim’s family members. We can’t afford the racial bias of the death penalty. And we can’t afford the greatest risk of all, the execution of an innocent person – that is a check this legislature and Delaware can’t cash. Support repeal of the death penalty in Delaware, because if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone, and sooner or later it will happen here. Thank you.