“Our system is adversarial in nature, but it can never be adversarial to the truth,” said Kirk Bloodsworth, the first U.S. death row prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence, as he spoke to an audience of lawyers, students, and academics on Widener Law’s Delaware campus on Friday, April 15th. His remarks came as part of the “Innocence, Conviction Integrity, and Reliability” CLE conference.
Coordinated by Associate Professor Jules Epstein
and Professor John F. Nivala
and presented by the Taishoff Advocacy, Technology and Public Service Institute
, the conference was the second in a series to explore the topic of innocence. The first event, Innocence and Forensics
, took place in September of 2009.
Following a welcome from Vice Dean J. Patrick Kelly
and brief remarks from Professor Nivala, Professor Epstein gave a brief overview of how innocence has changed the criminal justice system.
Epstein then introduced Bloodsworth, who gave a harrowing account of his experiences following his wrongful 1984 conviction of the brutal killing of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton outside Baltimore. Sentenced to death in 1985, Bloodsworth won a new trial, but he was again convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
“Whatever could go wrong in a criminal case went wrong in mine,” he said as he described the events leading to his conviction, which included a police lineup that did not occur until after a weekend in which his picture was repeatedly shown on news broadcasts.
Finally, after years of fighting for a DNA test on the evidence from the crime scene, Bloodsworth earned his freedom in 1993 when laboratory results showed that his DNA did not match that found on the evidence. The actual killer was not found until eleven year’s after Bloodsworth’s release, when DNA evidence linking the actual killer to the crime prompted Kimberly Shay Ruffner to plead guilty to the crime.
“Eighteen years now since I’ve been freed, and I’m still fighting for Justice,” concluded Bloodsworth before he took questions from the audience.
Following Mr. Bloodsworth’s presentation, Michael Ware, Special Fields Bureau Chief for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, spoke about the formation of the Conviction Integrity Unit to examine old cases for wrongful convictions. The Conviction Integrity Unit was formed in 2007 by Dallas Attorney General Craig Watkins to oversee the post-conviction review of more than 400 DNA cases in conjunction with the Innocence Project of Texas.
The rest of the day’s program featured a number of presentations and panel discussions including a presentation on cold case investigation by Vidocq Society co-founder Bill Fleisher, a panel discussion on the legal and forensic barriers in trying to prove a defendant’s innocence, a presentation on cognitive bias and forensics, and an ethics discussion.