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S2E7: Sentenced to Death, Exonerated by DNA: The Wrongful Conviction of Kirk Bloodsworth

Kirk Bloodsworth, an honorably discharged former Marine, was the first person sentenced to death and subsequently exonerated by DNA testing. He was 22 years old in 1984 when he was arrested for the rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton and sentenced to death in Baltimore County, MD. Kirk was arrested based on an anonymous call telling police that he was seen with the victim that day and an identification made by a witness from a police sketch shown on television. The description of the perpetrator was a 6 ft, 5 in tall white man with curly blond hair, a bushy mustache, skinny, and tan. Kirk was 6 ft, had red hair, and was well over 200 pounds. Though there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted based on the testimony of five witnesses who placed him either with the victim or near the scene of the crime. The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 1986, finding that the prosecution had illegally withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, and he was then retried, convicted again, and sentenced to two life terms. In the early 1990s, Kirk learned about DNA testing and the opportunities it could provide to prove his innocence. The prosecution finally agreed to DNA testing for Kirk’s case in 1992. The victim’s shorts and underwear, a stick found at the scene, and an autopsy slide were compared against DNA from the victim and Kirk. The DNA lab determined that testing on the panties excluded Kirk, and he was released from prison in June 1993 and pardoned in December 1993. Kirk Bloodsworth had spent almost nine years in prison, two of those years facing execution. He is now a published author and was instrumental in Maryland’s abolishment of the death penalty. The introduction of the Innocence Protection Act of 2003 established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, a program that helps states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.


Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is a production of Lava For Good Podcasts in association with Signal Co. No1 and PRX.

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