First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA Wants to Kill the Death Penalty

In a forthcoming documentary, Kirk Bloodsworth fights to keep innocent people from being sentenced to death.
Sep 18, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Nicole Pasulka is a writer and reporter who lives in New York City. She has written for Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, The Believer, and the New York Observer.

When he was 22, Kirk Bloodsworth was sentenced to death for the murder of a nine-year-old girl. The case against him relied solely on one person’s eyewitness testimony; no physical evidence linked him to the scene. After he spent eight years in prison, Bloodsworth was exonerated in 1993 through “genetic fingerprinting.” It was the first time DNA evidence led to a reversal of a death row conviction.

“The Supreme Court has told us that factual innocence is no reason to stop a death sentence properly rendered. I’ll be damned, and so shall the death penalty this year,” Bloodsworth says in a trailer for the forthcoming documentary Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man, which centers on his case and his crusade on behalf of death penalty inmates and post-conviction DNA testing.

“I want to kill the thing that almost killed me.”

DNA evidence has led to 317 post-conviction exonerations in the United States since 1993, according to The Innocence Project, a legal advocacy organization that helps prisoners who could be proven innocent with the help of DNA evidence. Of the 317 who had their convictions overturned, 18 spent time on death row.

For some innocent people in prison, the reversal of fortune came too late. Thursday, in Lubbock, Texas, the state unveiled a 13-foot bronze statue in honor of Timothy Cole. Though nothing other than an eyewitness connected Cole to the crime, he was convicted in 1986 of raping college student Michele Murray and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In 2007, a man named Jerry Wayne Johnson, who was serving time on other rape charges, sent a letter to Cole’s mother and confessed to raping Murray. In 2010 DNA proved the same, but it was too late to grant Cole his freedom. He’d died in 1999 while serving the sentence. He is the first person in Texas history to be exonerated posthumously.

The base of the new statue in Lubbock reads “And Justice for All.” Cole is seen holding two books, the spine of one reading “Lest We Forget.”

The Associated Press reported that at the unveiling, Cole’s brother, Cory Session, told the crowd, “The arc of justice is long, but for our family, it bends toward Lubbock today.”

It’s more than likely that innocent people are serving decades-long prison sentences. The stories of Bloodsworth and Cole show that, for many, DNA evidence is their only hope for freedom.