LUNCHTIME SPEAKER SERIES: “Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA”
9/27/2004 12:00 PM - 9/27/2004 1:00 PM
Interview with Kirk Bloodsworth and Tim Junkin
Tell us what you are doing now with your life?
Kirk: I’m touring most of the U.S. to tell people about my story. I’m talking to everybody from a bookstore to law classes at UNC and Duke to a law office in Minnesota. I figured if I tell my story enough, maybe the powers-that-be will wise up and do something to keep this from happening again.
I’m also a Program Officer for the Justice Project. Basically, my work includes education, telling the senators about my struggle with what it’s like to endure this kind of situation, and to stop it from happening to anybody else. We’re kind of a think tank of sorts. I really try to educate people about the problems of innocent people behind bars. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
You have a new book out, called “Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA.” Can you tell us a little about this book?
Tim: My background is as a novelist, and as I started researching it, it had all the makings for an incredible crime thriller. But it’s true, and I tried to write it that way as the dramatic story of a crime, a police investigation, the prosecution and the defense of Kirk Bloodsworth--how he fought for years against overwhelming odds to prove his innocence and of his eventual triumph over justice. It is full of the incredible stories of prison and has to be read to be believed. It’s also the story of the incredible impact that Kirk has made since his exoneration. It speaks to DNA in America and the death penalty in America, it speaks to the problems in our criminal justice system, and it speaks to the unfortunate arrogance that some people in power in our country seem to develop like it’s some kind
of sickness. It’s the kind of book that every author hopes to write that not only might engage the reader in an enthralling read, but also engage the reader to think a little differently in his or her world.
Kirk: It’s a wonderfully written book about the traumatic story of my life. And if I could have done it myself, this is exactly how I would have done it. Tim is an excellent writer and should be applauded. Everyone, no matter what walk of life you come from, should read this cautionary tale of injustice, justice and triumph.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty sought to reinstate the death penalty in Minnesota this past legislative session. He claimed that several safeguards, including the requirement of a DNA link, would make Minnesota’s capital punishment system free of the errors so often found in other death penalty states. You were here to testify against the reinstatement of the death penalty. Do you think it’s possible to have a foolproof death penalty?
Kirk: No way. My bottom line is, even if you still use the death penalty, you are still going to have a Kirk Bloodsworths, but may not be so lucky.
Tim: It’s just fraught with error now, and they can’t get it right. How about all the cases where DNA doesn’t exist? We are showing that innocent people are going to prison because there is no DNA to prove their innocence. If there is a risk that one innocent person could be put to death, it undermines the integrity and confidence in the entire judicial systems. He would still have to have thousands of criteria to make the death penalty uniform and fair: who will decide which cases to seek the death penalty in and who will show that it is the crime? Will he make the death penalty required or will prosecutors have that
discretion? Again, you end up with arbitrariness in the system. It turns out that all studies show it’s not a deterrent and does not save money. What kind of example does a state set when it deliberately and in cold blood takes someone’s life? He is going to only use the death penalty when DNA is available—how can you call that fair? One man commits a terrible crime, but there is no DNA, so he doesn’t get the death penalty. Another man commits a crime and there is DNA present, so he gets the death penalty.
What are your thoughts on the death penalty?
Kirk: As long as there is a possibility that we could execute an innocent person, the only thing that should die is the death penalty.
Tim: I’m a believer that stories are one of the most profound ways that we reach and teach people and this book has no commentary on my part, it just tells the true story. It tells Kirk’s story, the prosecutor’s story, the story of DNA in America and the death penalty. I just hope this book takes wings, and I hope it’s the kind of story that will speak for itself.
Could you explain the Bloodsworth DNA Technology Act, its status and what impact you think it will have on the criminal justice system?
Kirk: It’s called The Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act. There is also another bill that is going to be coming in the House for a vote and should pass. It is a larger part of a victims’ rights bill and would basically give rape victims a chance to have their backlog of rape kits tested. Over 300,000 rape kits are just sitting on the shelves, and that’s a low estimate. They are not being tested and Debbie Smith, a rape victim, had to wait 6.5 years to get a rape test done. The Debbie Smith Backlog Grant Program
would help to get this backlog done. And the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program would also be for post-conviction DNA testing that would give $25 million every five years to states that ask the federal government for money to have this access to DNA testing. It applies to everyone across the board if you have a viable claim of innocence. I believe that the bulk of this will be for death row inmates.
|Kirk Bloodsworth and Tim Junkin
You agreed, along with Dawn Hamilton’s parents, not to give her killer the death penalty. Why?
Kirk: One, he has to live with it. Because it’s like I said, he is definitely not an innocent person, but that punishment there is far worse than the death penalty, because he has to live with his evil doings for the rest of his life. He is going to be in that situation and to execute him would only take away his pain. I don’t see how, in one breath, we can do that, and the father agreed with me that the death penalty was too good for him, and he is going to have to live like I did . I can tell you as someone who has been there, that he is not going to have a good day, or a good life, for the rest of his life.
What age group will enjoy this book?
Tim: We’re finding that people from age 14 to 80 are enjoying this book. Just this last week, we spoke at a bookstore in Washington, DC. Afterward, a woman emailed me and asked us to speak at her son’s high school. She’d been trying to get him to read a book all summer, he watches MTV, he heard us speak, and spent 2 days in his room reading this book and now wants us to come speak at his high school. We’re getting requests from all people—grandmas, law students, high school students. It is very gratifying to have written a book that seems to touch people in this way.