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Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
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The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA

A-BloodsworthOn July 25, 1984, nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton was raped and killed in a Baltimore suburb. A 20-something ex-Marine, Kirk Bloodsworth, was charged with the crime, despite knowing nothing about it. Based on questionable evidence, he was sentenced to die
in Maryland’s gas chamber. While imprisoned, he read everything he could about murder trials—including Joseph Wambaugh’s The Blooding, an account of the use of DNA fingerprinting in England. Surviving on inner strength, he found a willing lawyer, and, nine years after the crime, became the first person in the U.S. to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
Shannon Ravenel. 294 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1565124197

Atlanta Journal-Constitution 4 of 5 Stars
"Enlightening, in a chilling way. … Junkin’s depiction of Bloodsworth’s time in prison is harrowing." John D. Thomas

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The Bloodsworth case has been chronicled extensively
before, but this book, by lawyer-novelist Tim Junkin, is the
most extensive treatment yet."
Steve Weinberg

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Written with its namesake’s participation, this brisk narrative forcefully expresses Bloodsworth’s confusion, anger, frustration, despair and, ultimately, forgiveness. … Junkin’s only misstep is to start this compelling account at its climax: the DNA testing that freed Bloodsworth." Douglas E. Winter

Critical Summary

Junkin, a trial lawyer and novelist, chronicles a well-trodden story. He captures Bloodworth’s fight against an unjust system with new objectivity, however, retaining sight of one man’s plight and the larger picture of capital punishment and prison reform. Junkin is especially adept at showing how the courts convicted Bloodsworth on specious evidence. If this chilling story of psychological profiling lacks a totally happy ending, its policy implications are enormous. In May 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Innocence Protection Act, which includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program to help defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.

Supplemental Reading

Ultimate Punishment A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty | Scott Turow (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2003. Turow’s conclusions after his two years as a member of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment.