Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Put death penalty to death

  • Print

Almost exactly 20 years ago, I became the first death row prisoner in the United States to clear my name through DNA evidence.

The crime for which I was convicted was the brutal rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl named Dawn Hamilton. My community in Maryland was devastated and needed someone to blame, so the district attorney’s office built a capital case against me based on a few flimsy pieces of so-called evidence.

My arrest followed my neighbour’s call to the police, in which she claimed that I resembled the sketch shown on TV — a sketch that had been crafted through the eyewitness accounts of two young boys. I didn’t look much like the culprit they described, and neither did the real killer, who was identified through the very DNA evidence that saved me.

I spent nine years in prison wondering if I’d be executed for a crime I did not commit. After my release, it wasn’t easy to piece back together a normal life.

But a turning point came when I saw how sharing the story of my innocence influenced the way others viewed the death penalty. I realized then that the best way to move forward would be to help prevent what happened to me from ever happening to anyone else.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, 142 of us have been exonerated from death row. That’s 142 innocent people who were saved, some at the last minute. Today, I work alongside many of those exonerated men and women at Witness to Innocence, where we share our stories with the world to advocate against the death penalty.

Thankfully, the death penalty is outlawed in 18 states. The sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment is my home state of Maryland, the state that almost executed me.

But there is much work still to be done. In the last year, North Carolina repealed the Racial Justice Act, which allowed for death penalty appeals based on racial bias in jury selection. In Florida, which has the largest number of death row exonerations of any state, Gov. Rick Scott just signed the Timely Justice Act, which limits the appeals process for death row prisoners. Many of my fellow exonerees owe their lives to multiple appeals, making this law far from just.

We should acknowledge by now that our criminal justice system is extremely flawed. Cases like mine are rife with eyewitness misidentification and prosecutorial misconduct. There are tremendous racial disparities in the application of the death penalty.

Plus, by nature, humans make mistakes. While we can’t change the human conditions, we can ensure that the humans who run our government don’t make fatal ones.

The only true path to justice is to put the death penalty to death.

 

Kirk Bloodsworth is advocacy director of Witness to Innocence. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project.

 

—McClatchy Tribune Services

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Public finally sees inside the Museum for Human Rights

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Canada Goose cools off in a water pond Monday afternoon at Brookside Cemetary- See Bryksa’s Goose a day Challenge– Day 27-June 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A young goose gobbles up grass at Fort Whyte Alive Monday morning- Young goslings are starting to show the markings of a adult geese-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 20– June 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should the Canadian Museum for Human Rights use the word 'genocide' in exhibits on Indian residential schools?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google