The Second Life Of Kirk Bloodsworth

Cover Story

July 30, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Kirk Bloodsworth of Cambridge is a wanted man again. The press wants him. Geraldo wants him. Congress wants him. They all want him to talk, just tell his story one more time for the record. He is an expert on his life story, and the public is prepared to believe him now.

Kirk Noble Bloodsworth is telling the truth.

"I'm having great difficulty putting my life together," Bloodsworth testified last month before a House subcommittee on crime. Congress is considering a bill, called the Innocence Protection Act, that would ensure convicted offenders have a chance to prove their innocence through DNA testing. Bloods-worth, a textbook case on the subject, has joined the cause.

"When I hear people say that the system is fine, but we need to speed it up, that they are all guilty anyway -- bull, I say. These statements stun me and sadden me. The people who make these statements were not with me during those nine years I was in prison."

No longer in the company of convicts, Bloodsworth is in the company of congressmen. If his death sentence for the murder of a 9-year-old Rosedale girl was his defining moment, life after his exoneration for that crime has been a redefining moment.

"Man, it's been a damn road, buddy," Bloodsworth says.

Life after the death penalty has been traumatic for Bloodsworth, who will turn 40 on Halloween. His seven years of freedom have been streaked with bouts of drinking, job failures and humiliations, romantic disappointments, depression and festering self-doubt.

Will this be my only legacy, he wonders, to be known forever as the burly, red-headed guy from the Eastern Shore who wasn't a child killer after all?

It's a long way back from the place he was and who he was: a dead man walking.

It's a long way home.

At Becky's Pond in Rosedale, young boys and girls troll for catfish with night crawlers, the heat bearing down in July, as always. Faint foot paths lead blindly into the dense woods around the pond here at Fontana Village, a townhouse community near the Golden Ring Mall.

"Catch anything?" a young boy asks a fisherman. It's just an innocent question heard around a neighborhood fishing pond on a summer day.

Sixteen summers ago, on July 25, another boy approached another man at this same spot. Hey, mister, the 7-year-old said to the stranger, a tall man with a mustache and reddish-blond hair. Want to look at my turtle? Then the boy and the man heard the voice of 9-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton, who lived in the neighborhood. She was looking for her cousin, Lisa.

"Lisa and me is playing hide-and-seek," the stranger said to Dawn, according to a woman who saw and overheard the man. "Come on, let's go find her." The man and child went into the woods.

Five hours later, Dawn Hamilton's body was found lying face-down in the dirt. The Rosedale girl was wearing a yellow pullover shirt and white cotton socks with pink cuff trim. A silver ring was on her index finger. Her gray pocketbook was still at her side. Her skull had been crushed with a rock. One month away from entering the fourth grade, Dawn had been raped and violated with a stick. Her underwear was found hanging on a tree branch.

Fifteen days later, Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Marine security guard, was arrested on the Eastern Shore and charged with the crime. He was awakened by police at a cousin's house in Cambridge, near the home where he had grown up.

"I remember a flashlight on me," he says, and then the questions. What? he told police. I don't know that girl. I could never hurt anyone.

There was no physical evidence against him. But soon after the murder, Bloodsworth had told people on the Eastern Shore that he could not return to his home in Rosedale because he had done a "terrible thing." The remark would haunt him in court.

Primarily on the testimony of five people who placed him near the scene of the crime, Bloodsworth was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to die in Maryland. He was 24 years old. He said he was innocent. He also said the "terrible thing" he had done was forget to buy his wife dinner. It didn't matter what he said now. Police escorted him to prison.

"Nothing is cut and dry Judge -- nothing. It's not over. I'll never give up," Bloodsworth wrote to the judge in his case in 1990. As he always did when writing from his cell, No. 307 in the Jessup prison, he signed his letter "A.I.M.": an innocent man.

In June 1993, Bloodsworth left prison, riding away in a black limousine. Cigars, beer and pizza were also ceremoniously provided. After nearly nine years as a convicted child killer, Bloodsworth was a free man. Advanced DNA testing -- unavailable at the time of his trial -- had exonerated him in the Hamilton murder.

Bloodsworth would become one of eight death-row inmates who so far have established their innocence through post-conviction DNA testing. He would become the subject of books on criminology, his name a footnote in the country's thriving debate over capital punishment. His life story would forever be public.

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