Widener Law program examines innocence within the criminal justice system
Public Relations - Published: April 12, 2011
InnocenceConvictionCLE 2011v2The crossroads between innocence, the integrity of convictions and the reliability of evidence will be the focus of a daylong program at Widener Law in Delaware.

The Friday, April 15 event will begin with DNA exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth telling his personal story of nearly 10 years in a Maryland prison, including two on death row, for a rape and murder he did not commit. Titled “Innocence, Conviction Integrity, and Reliability,” the conference will also offer discussion and debate by nationally regarded experts. Other presenters include the co-founder of the Vidocq Society – an exclusive crime-solving organization – and a member of the Dallas District Attorney’s Office, who will discuss ways prosecutors can correct mistaken convictions and prevent new ones.

Bloodsworth will speak at 9 a.m. about his conviction in the 1984 brutal killing of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton outside Baltimore. He was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1985, but won a new trial and was again convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. He spent years fighting for a DNA test on the evidence and when laboratory tests were finally conducted, the results showed his DNA did not match that on the evidence. The results prompted a judge to release him from prison in 1993, and he was later pardoned by then-Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Bloodsworth was the first U.S. death row prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence. Eleven years after his release, another man pleaded guilty to the murder, after DNA evidence linked him to the crime. Today, Bloodsworth, who lives in Idaho, travels the country speaking about his story to educate the public about innocence.

“What happened to Kirk Bloodsworth is shocking, and disturbing for what it says about the American justice system. Yes, Bloodsworth was eventually released, but after losing nearly a decade of his freedom – and very nearly his life while on death row,” said Associate Professor Jules Epstein. “This is a man who was wrongly convicted not once, but twice. I am certain his story will captivate our audience. There is much to be learned from it.”

Epstein and Professor John F. Nivala are coordinating the conference. It is presented by the law school and its Taishoff Advocacy, Technology and Public Service Institute, which Nivala directs. The program is the second in a series of conferences presented by the law school which explore topics of innocence. The first, an event on innocence and forensics, was held in 2009.

The conference has been approved for six continuing legal education credits, including one ethics credit, for attorneys in Delaware and Pennsylvania. It is also approved for criminal procedure rule 801 – capital counsel continuing education. Attorneys who attend for credit will be charged a $125 registration fee, which includes lunch. The fee will be $100 for Widener Law alumni, and discounted further for prosecutors and public defenders. Attendance is free for students and members of the general public, who are not seeking educational credits, but without materials or lunch.

To register, contact Constance M. Sweeney at 302.477.2177 or cmsweeney@widener.edu. The law school is located at 4601 Concord Pike, Wilmington. The program will be held in the Ruby R. Vale Moot Courtroom and check-in begins at 8 a.m. For more information, including a full schedule, see law.widener.edu/innocence.