Bloodsworth on a mission to reform criminal justice in the United States | ParkRecord.com

Bloodsworth on a mission to reform criminal justice in the United States

DNA exonerated Death Row inmate

Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted of sexual assault, rape and the first-degree, premeditated murder of a 9-year-old girl in 1985.

He spent nine years in prison, two of which were on Death Row. The problem was, Bloodsworth wasn't guilty.

A 1993 DNA test exonerated Bloodsworth and he was released. Ten years later, prisoner DNA evidence led to the conviction of the real killer, Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who, ironically, was convicted for another crime and resided in the cell one floor below Bloodsworth.

Bloodsworth will tell his story and appear with former White House advisor Van Jones and activist actor Mike Farrell at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

The evening, titled "Criminal Justice Reform," is presented by the Park City Institute and will examine the broken parts of the United States criminal justice system.

Bloodsworth, who was one of the first people on Death Row to push for access to DNA testing, has been working on fixing the system since he was released from prison.

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One of his projects was the Justice for All Act, enacted in 2004.

It is designed to not only protect crime victims' rights, but also improve and expand the DNA testing capacity of federal, state and local crime laboratories.

The act includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post Conviction DNA Testing Grant program, which provides money to people who request a DNA test after being convicted of a crime.

"I didn't have the money to do a DNA test when I was in prison," Bloodsworth said during a phone interview from Ambler, Pennsylvania. "If it wasn't for my attorney and the law firm at the time who took $10,000 out of their own pocket to make that happen, I wouldn't be talking with you."

Many men and women convicted of a crime today cannot afford to pay for the test, Bloodsworth said.

"I think this is a necessary component if we want our system to work," he said. "If someone isn't guilty of a crime, they shouldn't have to worry about paying for a DNA test. And certainly, they shouldn't have to do it in a post-conviction setting if getting a DNA test is applicable to their case."

DNA tests don't only benefit defendants, Bloodsworth said.

"I understand prosecutors are the charging authority, but what is the problem with them asking for a DNA test?" he said. "Wouldn't it be better for them to have more information to present to he jury? I mean, if the results came out in their favor, I know they would use it. So, I can't believe it's a bad thing to have it in a post-conviction setting."

Still, DNA testing isn't the only issue that needs examining.

"There is a myriad of other things such as witness identification procedures, custodial interrogations — I could go on forever," Bloodsworth said.

One big one is prosecutorial misconduct.

"This is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions," Bloodworth said. "Some of these prosecutors won't admit they're wrong, and if they continue to do that, we won't be able to keep a society whole judicially."

Then there is the added element of social media where people have a tendency to convict someone before they go to trial.

"I have said for years that we have an adversarial system," Bloodsworth said. "The problem is we can't be adversarial to the truth. When we do that, that's the gravest error of all.

"It's not just making 12 people believe what happened beyond a reasonable doubt, but it's also making 12 people believe what may not have happened beyond a reasonable doubt as well," he said. "That's why prosecutors need to give the defendant due process. You are not supposed to hide, pull or manufacture evidence."

The bottom line for Bloodsworth is the possible execution of an innocent person.

"Since 1973, there have been 156 people on Death Row who were found to be not guilty of their crimes," he said. "Why in the world would the public be indifferent to that?

"If an airplane had a problem that endangered less that that many people, the Transportation Safety Board would be checking all the planes left and right," he said. "I think there should be a thorough review of every death sentence in the United States, and if there is any claim of innocence, we should go forward and do any applicable testing, whether it's DNA or whatever."

Bloodsworth wants to go one step further and eliminate the death sentence altogether.

"I think it's best that we stop this practice," he said. "If you execute someone who isn't guilty, you can't undo it. And this should be in all of our minds."

The Park City Institute will present a presentation about criminal justice reform at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $29 to $79. For more information, visit http://www.ecclescenter.org.

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