The New York Times profiles Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, the first inmate in the nation to be sentenced to death and then exonerated by DNA. Twenty years after he was freed, he has become an advocate against the death penalty in Maryland. The state in the next few weeks is expected to join the growing list of states that have abolished capital punishment. Some longtime death penalty opponents say no one in the country has done more to advance that cause than Bloodsworth. But ending executions in Maryland, the state that once was determined to kill him, would be a personal victory for him.
Even for proponents of capital punishment, Bloodsworth's tale is deeply unsettling. In 1984, he was a former Marine with no criminal record who had followed his father's profession as a waterman on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. A woman glimpsed on television a police sketch of the suspect in the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl outside Baltimore. She thought it looked like her neighbor Kirk, and she called the police. From there, with the police and prosecutors under intense pressure to solve the crime, it was a short route to trial, conviction and a death sentence. Bloodsworth, now 52, said, “It took the jury two and a half hours to send me to the gas chamber.”