No one here gets out alive

The wheels of justice ground slowly for Kirk Bloodsworth

by Katrina Wilber

For some, the sought-after miracle arrives 10, 20, 30 years down the road. For others, exoneration comes after death; by then, it’s too late.

“Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA” by Tim Junkins is the account of a man sentenced to die for a crime he didn’t commit, a man who spent years writing hundreds of letters he signed “A.I.M.: An Innocent Man.” It’s the story of a man who became the first inmate in history to be set free by the tests performed on traces of genetic identification.

The state of Maryland sentenced him to die in a gas chamber or serve two life sentences for the brutal 1984 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl.

After his arrest and conviction, Kirk Bloodsworth, a former member of the Marine Corps track team, was seen as a sick, perverted man who committed a horrible, unthinkable crime.

For years, Bloodsworth proclaimed his innocence.

Through a series of unbelievable glitches, from using people who admitted they were high the day of the crime and a 7-year-old boy as key witnesses, to devious legal tricks and incompetent evidence-handling, Bloodsworth was convicted of the crime and sentenced to die.

Since the early 1800s, the Maryland Penitentiary has held the state’s most ruthless, vicious prisoners. The innocent Bloodsworth, after losing both his appeals, spent nearly a decade fighting for his release and his life in hell on earth.

Junkin writes with a conversational style, as if he were telling a story out loud. He describes the scenes vividly, so vividly they unfold perfectly in the mind’s eye.

“Bloodsworth” is a well-documented book with hundreds of notes and citations, but it’s not simply a stolid recounting of events. The book is written in the third person, which allows the author to dive into the inner thoughts of those involved. The reader sees the lawyers’ minds at work and the agony and pain Bloodsworth dealt with during his prison time.

Junkin’s use of time, not as a linear notion, but as a back-and-forth, see-saw effect, heightens the suspense between events. He throws out clues that seem inconsequential until the case is resolved. Eventually, those little clues make the whole story fall into place.

Bloodsworth escaped with his life, but no amount of restitution could pay him back for nine years of humiliation and confinement. Nothing can give him back the 20 years he spent with the millstone of presumed guilt around his neck. He carried that weight until another Maryland prisoner was tried and convicted in May 2004 in the case of that little girl’s death.

In this industrialized world, this supposedly civilized country has proudly proclaimed that all citizens live the “American Dream.” For those whose lives are in the hands of the government, they often have only an American nightmare.