Kirk Bloodsworth

NEW JERSEY – Exonerated death row survivors spread message to halt death penalty – Kirk Bloodsworth and Shujaa Graham


february 20, 2014

Two men who were on death row before being found to be wrongly accused spoke Thursday night in Newark at the invitation of advocates who would like to abolish the death penalty.

Kirk Bloodsworth and Shujaa Graham, members of Witness to Innocent, shared their experiences at the University of Delaware as part of a series of events supported by a group of local religious leaders and the Delaware Repeal Project.

In the coming days 15 members of Witness to Innocent will attend events at Delaware churches and community hubs, including the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, in an effort to promote Senate Bill 19, which would end the death penalty in the state.

On Saturday, a group of local religious leaders plan to gather to call on state leaders to support the measure during an event at Limestone Presbyterian Church, 3201 Limestone Road, in Wilmington. The public is invited to gather at the church at noon Saturday to speak to members of Witness to Innocent, see a presentation and take part in a roundtable discussion.

Bloodsworth was the first person in the United States to be exonerated by DNA evidence, according to Witness to Innocent, where he serves as director of advocacy. In 1985 he was sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Md., for the murder and rape of a 9-year-old girl. A year later, DNA evidence revealed he was wrongly convicted, according to his profile on the Witness to Innocent website.

Graham was sentenced to death after the 1973 slaying of a prison gaurd in California, according to Witness to Innocent. His conviction was overturned in 1979 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Two years later he was found innocent and released, according to Witness to Innocent’s profile of Graham online.

First US man released by DNA evidence after being on death row celebrates 20th year


june 28, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A man who was on Maryland’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his release.

Kirk Bloodsworth is marking the anniversary on Friday, just months after Maryland banned the death penalty.

Bloodsworth, who recently moved from Maryland to Philadelphia to be director of advocacy for Witness to Innocence, was twice convicted of a girl’s 1984 murder. He spent two years on death row following his first trial. A second trial brought another conviction, although he received a life sentence instead of capital punishment.

Bloodsworth was cleared in 1993, becoming the first American freed because of DNA evidence after being convicted in a death penalty case.

Reflecting on his experience, Bloodsworth says: “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

At UN, French minister meets with ex-death row inmate


September 27, 2012 AFP

NEW YORK — France’s foreign minister met Thursday with a former US death row inmate as he launched a campaign at the United Nations calling for a universal ban on executions.

Laurent Fabius spoke for half an hour with Kirk Bloodsworth, an American sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl before being the first to be exonerated by a DNA test after nine years behind bars.

The minister praised the courage of the wrongfully convicted man, who has campaigned against capital punishment since his 1993 release.

“It’s an issue dear to our hearts because the death penalty is inefficient, irreversible and inhumane,” Fabius said.

“There’s no better place than the United Nations to launch this fight.”

He spoke after meeting with his counterpart from Benin, Nassirou Arifari Bako, as well as some 50 countries on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly to convince them of the need to abolish the death penalty.

Other international gatherings are planned in the context of the campaign, including one in Paris on October 9 followed by others in Rabat and Madrid, according to Fabius.

France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, is a major proponent of abolishing the death penalty, with media regularly reporting about executions. During their meeting, Bloodsworth thanked Fabius for the country’s efforts.

In a recent interview with AFP in his small apartment in Mount Rainer, near the northeastern city of Baltimore, Kirksworth spoke of nightmares that still haunt him to this day.

“I used to have very bad dreams, sweating, screaming,” he said. “I’d wake up thinking they’d drag me to the gas chamber.”

After being pardoned by the governor of Maryland and receiving $300,000 for his lost years — a sum he said that constituted about $3.72 an hour — Bloodsworth now takes his message to schools, universities and even to the world stage at the United Nations.

“Obviously my biggest reason for ending the death penalty is that we could execute an innocent person, we’ve already done that,” he said. “I believe in punishment but the death penalty is not right, not in a country that has so many different ways to take care of prisoners.”