FRANKFORT — A Maryland man who was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering a 9-year-old girl brought his convictions against the death penalty Wednesday to the Kentucky Capitol, where lawmakers are considering whether to abolish capital punishment.
"It's easier to free a man from prison than to free a man from the grave," Kirk Bloodsworth, 54, said at a news conference with state Senate Minority Caucus Chairman Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, and state Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown.
Neal and Floyd have filed legislation to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without parole. Both lawmakers said they think support against the death penalty is growing in the state legislature but would not predict how their legislation will fare in this year's General Assembly.
"If you support the death penalty, come and shake hands with this man, who was wrongfully convicted," Floyd said of Bloodsworth. "We have a system that condemns to death the innocent as well as the guilty. Reasonable people will cry for change."
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Bloodsworth was in prison for almost nine years, two of those on Death Row not far from a gas chamber, after being convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a young girl in 1985 in Maryland.
In 1992, while in prison, the former Marine read a book that mentioned DNA fingerprinting. Hoping to prove his innocence, he pushed to have the evidence against him tested by the new method.
Testing proved that the traces of semen in the victim's underwear did not match Bloodsworth's DNA profile.
Bloodsworth was released from prison in 1993 and became the first person in the United States to be exonerated from Death Row through post-conviction DNA testing. He now is a member of Witness to Innocence, a non-profit organization of Death Row exonerees that educates the public about innocence and wrongful conviction.
"Two juries were wrong. Two judges were wrong," Bloodsworth said at the news conference. "The state of Maryland was wrong. I am not here because the system worked. I am here because a series of miracles happened."
The real killer was later found and convicted, he said.
Bloodsworth said he would be against the death penalty even if a member of his family was murdered and there was overwhelming evidence against the murderer.
"You can't have it both ways," he said.
There are 34 people on Death Row in Kentucky. The last execution in the state was in 2008.
Floyd and Neal said the state spends about $10 million a year prosecuting and defending the death penalty.
They have filed resolutions in their respective chambers to establish a task force to study in more detail the costs of administering the death penalty in Kentucky.
Bloodsworth's weeklong tour in Kentucky is sponsored by Witness to Innocence, the ACLU of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.