ANNAPOLIS – An Eastern Shore man, exonerated by genetic evidence for the murder of a 9-year-old girl, told a Senate committee Thursday that bills to mandate DNA testing and halt executions for two years are sorely needed.
“My life has been destroyed . . . destroyed,” said Kirk Bloodsworth, choking back tears.
The Eastern Shore crabber told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee of attending his mother’s funeral in handcuffs and leg-chains just five months before his release. He still is ostracized, he said.
Bloodsworth was freed in 1993, after nearly nine years in prison for the rape and murder of Dawn Hamilton. Bloodsworth had been sentenced to death, but was re-sentenced to life in prison when his appeal uncovered favorable evidence that prosecutors kept from the defense.
The DNA evidence from the crime came from a semen sample, but technology to analyze that was not available until Bloodsworth had spent several years in prison.
Bloodsworth testified on four separate bills to implement DNA testing in capital and other crimes, and a bill to suspend executions in the state for two years.
Senate Bill 316 would halt executions pending completion of a University of Maryland study of racial disparity of death penalty convictions. The study began in the fall and should be finished in September 2002. The moratorium would run a year longer so lawmakers could consider the results.
A similar bill was introduced last year in the House of Delegates and was killed without a committee vote, however the climate for such legislation is more favorable this year.
Five Maryland death sentences have been overturned in the past year. In June 2000, Gov. Parris N. Glendening commuted the death sentence of Eugene Colvin-El, who was scheduled to die for the stabbing death of 82- year-old Lena Buckman, to life in prison.
In July, Joe Roy Metheny’s death sentence was overturned by the Court of Appeals. Metheny pleaded guilty in 1998 to the murder of Catherine Magaziner, but the court said there were no aggravating circumstances necessary for the death penalty.
Late last year, Jean Clermont’s death penalty was overturned by a Prince George’s County Circuit judge because of ineffective counsel during his original trial, and he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
In January, the conviction and death sentence of Eugene Wilder was overturned by the Court of Appeals. Wilder will face another trial.
Finally, the death sentence of Wallace Ball was overturned this year by a Charles County Circuit judge, but the state is appealing. The state completed two previous death penalty studies, which detailed the overrepresentation of African-Americans on death row, but each failed to conclude the system was tainted with racism.
The current study, being led by Raymond Paternoster at the University of Maryland, goes beyond the others. It will catalog hundreds of characteristics for each of 2,000 capital crimes in order to match similar circumstances. Then, researchers can compare the race of the perpetrators and their sentences to see if the death penalty is applied unfairly to minorities.
Nine of the 13 men on Maryland’s death row are African-American. Backers of the moratorium point out nearly 75 percent of victims of death row criminals are white, but the overwhelming majority of murder victims statewide are African-American.
The death penalty has been under attack both regionally and nationally since reviews of DNA evidence have led to the freeing of Bloodsworth and other death row inmates.
In Virginia, Earl Washington was exonerated and freed in October through DNA evidence, which proved him innocent of rape and murder after 18 years in prison.
The Virginia Assembly also is considering legislation to suspend or abolish the death penalty, and governors in New Hampshire and Nebraska have recently vetoed death penalty moratorium bills.
In Illinois, Republican Gov. George Ryan indefinitely suspended executions because he had “grave concerns about our state’s shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row.” – 30 – CNS-2-22-01