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First American death row inmate exonerated by DNA to speak Oct. 29

Kirk Bloodsworth, the first American death row inmate exonerated by DNA testing, will share his wrongful conviction story, and an expert panel will discuss the causes, reforms and remedies in innocence cases with Wake Forest University at noon on Thursday, Oct. 29, in Room 1312 of the Worrell Professional Center.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the Wake Forest University Provost’s Office, Wake Forest School of Law, the Law School’s Innocence and Justice Clinic and Innocence Project and the Forsyth County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

A former Marine, Bloodsworth was convicted of sexual assault, rape and first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to death in 1984. The ruling was appealed on the grounds that evidence was withheld at trial. He received a new trial but again was found guilty and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. After years of fighting for a DNA test, evidence from the crime scene was sent to a lab. In 1993, final reports from state and federal labs concluded that Bloodsworth’s DNA did not match any of the evidence received for testing. By the time of his release, Bloodsworth had spent nearly nine years in prison, including two on death row. Almost a decade later, on Sept. 5, 2003, the Maryland State’s Attorney announced that a DNA match had been made in the nearly 20-year-old case. That person pled guilty on May 20, 2004, to the murder for which Bloodsworth had been wrongfully convicted.

Today Bloodsworth is a program officer for The Justice Project in Washington, D.C., and he has been an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) since its introduction in Congress in February 2000. The IPA established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, which helps states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. Bloodsworth has spoken about his story on numerous television shows, including “Oprah,” and he has been featured in national publications, including the New York Times Magazine. The dramatic story of Bloodsworth’s 20-year journey is chronicled in a book by Tim Junkin, “Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA.”

Following Bloodsworth’s account, a panel discussion entitled “244 Wrongfully Convicted and Counting: Deconstructing Actual Innocence Cases to Identify Causes, Reforms and Remedies,” will explore the causes and risk factors that contribute to wrongful convictions in the U.S. and the role that DNA testing plays in exonerating the innocent. The discussion will include the interconnectedness of race, incarceration and wrongful conviction and the impact on families along with suggestions for reforms to our criminal justice system to prevent such injustices in the future.

Moderated by the Wake Forest Innocence and Justice Clinic Co-Director Carol Turowski, the panel will include clinic Co-Director Mark Rabil, who is an assistant capital defender in Forsyth County, and Darryl Hunt, a Winston-Salem native who spent 19 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. Rabil’s advocacy eventually led to the release and exoneration of Hunt.

Also expected to join the panel are Angela Hattery and Earl Smith, professors in the Wake Forest University Sociology Department.

Rabil will discuss mistakes the police made in Hunt’s case including the problem of tunnel vision, which limits how law enforcement and prosecutors investigate and process cases.

Hunt will comment on how the system operates as well as his re-entry back into society and the community work he is engaged in at the Darryl Hunt Project.

“N.C. has some of the most progressive laws when it comes to preventing wrongful convictions,” Turowski said.

Professors Hattery and Smith, who have a new book titled “Prisoner Re-entry and Social Capital” being released in 2010, will talk about the systemic problem of wrongful convictions and how the U.S. legal system is driven by a revenge model rather than a rehabilitation model.

Hattery teaches Social Stratification and Inequality, Sociology of Gender, Contemporary Families, Gender, Power and Violence, and Methods of Sociological Inquiry and her research focuses on gender and family.

Smith, who is the Rubin Distinguished Professor of American Ethnic Studies and the director of the Wake Forest University American Ethnic Studies program, is most recently the author of “Race, Sport & the American Dream (2007) and African American Families (2007).”