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Authors: Tim Junkin


BOOK: Bloodsworth
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A Shannon Ravenel Book



I A Stain Lifted

II A Crime in Fontana Village

III A Composite, a Profile, a Gambit

IV Trial and Error

V The Death House

VI Broken Justice

VII Freedom


Spring 2004

Author's Note and Acknowledgments


Praise for

Also by Tim Junkin


. The American Civil War was drawing to a close with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre. Slavery in the United States was about to be abolished. And far away in the beautiful Abbey of St. Thomas in the small provincial city of Brno in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a short bespectacled abbot with a love of botany was putting the finishing touches to his studies on pea breeding. Unwittingly, the abbot was about to unleash a chain of events that would lead directly to the remarkable story of anguish and courage that you are about to read.

The abbot was Gregor Mendel, and his work on pea hybrids revealed for the first time the fundamental laws of inheritance that apply just as well to you and me as to his pea plants. Mendel had discovered genes, the particles of inheritance. It took another eighty-eight years for scientists to work out exactly what these particles look like—the DNA double helix—thanks to James Watson and Francis Crick.

My own involvement came, as happens in science, entirely by accident. I had joined the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester in the English Midlands as a rookie lecturer in 1977. My fascination was with exploring inherited variation directly in human DNA. By total chance, we stumbled onto bits of DNA that varied hugely between people, allowing us for the first time to identify individuals by their DNA. Thus was DNA fingerprinting born. By a strange twist of fate, in the very year of the first DNA fingerprint, a young girl was raped and murdered and a man was convicted of this terrible crime and sentenced to death—that man was Kirk Bloodsworth.

Everyone now knows that DNA can be used in criminal investigations—with high profile court cases and popular TV series like
it would be hard not to know of the power of DNA to identify the guilty. But what of the innocent? In fact, the first time we used DNA in a criminal investigation, way back in 1985, it led to a prime suspect in a similar case of rape and murder being shown to be innocent of the crime. Without our DNA evidence, and given his (false) confession, I have no doubt that he would have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Here was DNA as a two-edged sword, clearing the innocent as well as identifying the guilty.

The current impact of DNA on police work is huge. The numbers speak for themselves: in the United Kingdom, our national criminal DNA database now carries some three million DNA profiles and has already proved crucial in over five hundred thousand investigations. But these bald numbers hide countless personal stories—some squalid, some touching, some tragic, but none I think as extraordinary and inspiring as that of Kirk and his quest to escape death row.

My wife, Sue, and I had the great privilege of meeting Kirk and his wife, Brenda, last year at an award ceremony in London. This
was emotional stuff—here was a gentle giant of a man who has turned a personal tragedy into a force for great good. Kirk is DNA's champion, tirelessly campaigning for testing of DNA evidence of convicted people, with over 150 individuals who served long sentences or faced state execution now freed from U.S. jails. We need a Kirk in Britain too.

I am delighted to see Kirk's story published. This is an extraordinary tale of terrible injustice, of anguish and frustration, of courage and fortitude. It's a tale of a truly good and inspirational man. And of the true power of DNA.

Sir Alec Jeffreys
June 6, 2005


And so, to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honor and peace, until the gods are tired of blood and create a race that can understand.



of April 27, 1993, Bob Morin sat in his law office located near the city courthouse in Washington, D.C., and stared out his window at the new Olsson's bookstore across the street. There were books in there he'd wanted to read for years but couldn't find the spare hours. Morin had been up most of the night assisting lawyers in Austin on an emergency petition for a stay of execution on behalf of a Texas inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection. For weeks, he'd been immersed in preparing to defend a man at trial facing a possible death sentence in Maryland. He'd also been assisting lawyers in Georgia and South Carolina on numerous postconviction strategies in capital cases in those states. And he'd been preparing pleadings opposing the federal government's first attempt to apply a new death penalty law in a military tribunal. That April afternoon, Morin had just returned from a meeting with the federal prosecutors at the Department of Justice. His khaki suit was creased, his tie undone. He wanted to change into the blue jeans, pullover shirt, and sandals that he usually wore in the office and that lay in a heap on the floor, but he felt too tired to move.

Morin looked over a desk piled high with files. His gaze stopped
on the dream catcher tacked to his office door. It was an authentic Navajo relic, presented to him by a grateful client. Raised a Boston Catholic, he preferred the simple Native American spirituality to any institutional religion. He studied the dream catcher on his door and made a wish for the one client whose image he couldn't shake, the one client who was haunting his thoughts. He took a deep breath, looked up a number on his Rolodex, picked up the phone, and dialed long distance.

At forty years old Bob Morin had devoted most of his legal career to assisting people facing the death penalty. By age thirty he had walked away from both a lucrative position in private practice and a promising academic career at Georgetown University to join the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta in an effort to fight the swelling tide of death sentences being imposed and carried out in nine southern states. From there he'd gone on to become a public defender in Maryland, specializing in death penalty cases, and then in the nation's capital he formed a small law firm dedicated to helping death row inmates. Morin had long believed that the way the death penalty was being imposed in the United States was unjust. Now, having spent years battling executions in state after state, he'd become certain of something else—that there were inmates facing execution or serving life terms in prison who were innocent. One such person, in whose innocence Morin had come to believe strongly, was Kirk Bloodsworth.

Kirk Noble Bloodsworth had been sentenced to die in Maryland's gas chamber for the 1984 rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl. After being granted a new trial by a Maryland appellate court, Bloodsworth had been convicted a second time. His appeals to the higher courts in Maryland had all been exhausted. In February 1989 Morin had received a call from Gary Christopher in the state public defender's office, asking him to meet with Bloodsworth. “Every lawyer who's touched this case believes the kid is innocent,” Christopher had
said. Morin had been reluctant. He knew that Bloodsworth's sentence after his second trial had been changed from death to two consecutive life terms. Morin was swamped with death penalty cases and felt like a triage doctor at a disaster site. He had so many clients scheduled for execution that he couldn't afford to spend time trying to help one facing only a double life sentence. But when Christopher called a second time, Morin, as a favor to a colleague, agreed to visit this kid Bloodsworth. He had no intention, though, of becoming his lawyer.

A month later, in late March, Morin and his partner, David Kagan-Kans, had driven to the Maryland Penitentiary to meet with another client. They figured they'd briefly interview Bloodsworth while at the prison. The plan was to hear the man out, then politely tell him that they just didn't have the time or the resources to take on his case. Over the years Morin had interviewed hundreds of incarcerated prisoners seeking a lawyer's help and knew all too well the typical convict rap.

“Kirk came into the interview room all pumped up,” Morin recalls. “He was a big kid, and he'd been lifting weights. His hair was long and shaggy, wild looking. He had bushy sideburns and a Wyatt Earp mustache running down his face. He wore mirrored sunglasses and had a pack of Kool Filter Kings rolled up in his sleeve. The classic biker con. I figured the interview would be short . . .”

Bloodsworth immediately took off his sunglasses. His eyes were teary. He shook hands with the two lawyers. “The first thing I want to do is apologize for the way I look,” he said. “This is not me. This is not who I am. But this is the way I have to look to survive in this place. This is what I've had to become . . .”

Morin had never had a prisoner come on to him like this before. They talked further. Bloodsworth seemed interested in the little girl who had been killed. As though he had a connection to her. He wanted more than just to get out of prison. He stressed not only
that he was innocent, that he didn't commit the crime, but that he wanted to find out who did. “For the sake of the little girl,” he kept emphasizing.

Morin began trying to explain the legal difficulties to Bloods-worth. He told him there were immense hurdles to overturning his conviction a second time, particularly as his appeals were over. Even if a legal basis to further contest his conviction could be found—a constitutional violation previously overlooked or significant new evidence unknown at the time of his second trial—no judge, state or federal, would be eager to put the victim's family through the ordeal of a third trial. And even if a new trial were granted, how would they go about convincing a jury that there was reasonable doubt?

“Mr. Morin, I appreciate what you're saying,” Bloodsworth interrupted him, “but this is not about reasonable doubt. If you're going to be my lawyer, you need to understand this. I did not do this. I am innocent. This is what we must prove. I am not here to get a lawyer to raise a reasonable doubt. If you take this on, it is not to raise a technicality—I am innocent. We must prove that. We must prove who really did this.”

Morin was amazed. He'd never heard an inmate talk like this. But he did know some things about this one that were extraordinary. He'd learned that Bloodsworth had written hundreds of letters from prison proclaiming his innocence, that every day this man woke up thinking of a new person to write. Every day, seven days a week, for five years . . . A guilty man, Morin figured, just wouldn't have the energy, the perseverance, the will.

“Kirk,” Morin responded. “You say you are innocent—”

Bloodsworth interrupted him again. “Mr. Morin,” he said, “if you're going to be my lawyer you just can't use phrases like that. It's not that I'm just
that I'm innocent. I
truly am
innocent. And we have to find the person who really did this.”

David Kagan-Kans walked together out of the prison without saying a word. Morin was frustrated, angry. They stood together on the stone curb outside the penitentiary walls. The sky was overcast, the air chilly. Traffic whizzed by. Morin slammed his file down on the hood of his old Chevy. The last thing he needed was this—an innocent client with no money, with almost no hope or chance. While the public defender's office might provide some small stipend for the representation, it would be a major undertaking involving hundreds of hours, a case his small firm would probably have to fund, and one that would further exhaust resources that were already stretched thin. He looked at his partner. They were thinking the same thing. “You know we have to do this,” Morin said.

“I know,” Kagan-Kans answered.

“It's going to be a bear. I mean, how are we ever going to prove he's innocent? I'm just not sure we can do anything for this kid.”

“Right,” Kagan-Kans answered. “Right.”

Two prison guards in brown uniforms walked by. Kagan-Kans stretched out his arms and looked up at the low sky, which had begun to spit. He lowered his head and watched his partner. “But isn't this why we became lawyers?”

BOOK: Bloodsworth
9.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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