Tomorrow marks the fifteenth anniversary of Kirk Bloodsworth’s exoneration in Maryland. After serving nearly nine years in Maryland – much of it on death row – for a crime he did not commit, Bloodsworth became the first person exonerated by DNA testing in the U.S. who had spent time on death row.
Today, Bloodsworth works to ensure that others don’t suffer the same fate he did. In addition to being a public advocate, Bloodsworth is a Program Officer for The Justice Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to criminal justice reform. Through his work, Bloodsworth helped get the Innocence Protection Act – which includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program – passed in 2004.
Although the program was authorized to provide up to $25 million over five years to help the wrongfully convicted pay for post-conviction DNA testing, access to both the grant money and to DNA evidence has not yet reached those in need. As of January, when
Bloodsworth wrote a blog for the Huffington Post
, Congress had approved $14 million in funding for states to conduct post-conviction DNA testing under the Bloodsworth program. The Department of Justice, however, had never approved any state applications, and therefore had not sent a dollar of grant money in the over three-year life of the law.
But recent congressional attention to this program (from both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees) may pave the way for progress. The Innocence Project is working with all parties to help make sure these critical funds reach states that need and deserve them.
In addition, seven states – Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota – have no state laws guaranteeing DNA access, and many other states have access laws with problematic stipulations. In Arkansas, a person cannot apply for DNA testing if a direct appeal is available. In Idaho, a person must apply for testing within one year of being convicted. If that had been the case in Maryland, Kirk Bloodsworth would still be in prison.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
David A. Gray
, Illinois (Served 20 years, Exonerated 6/23/99)
, Illinois (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 6/24/96)