Long ride back may turn thorny after the limousine


"Limousine, huh?"

Leslie Vass shakes his head in wonder. There was no limousine for him, no cigar and no cold beer and no adoring fiancee waiting when he left the House of Correction after 10 years for a crime he never committed.

Kirk Bloodsworth is different. He walked out of prison Monday with television cameras awaiting him, and his loved ones standing nearby, and Bloodsworth stood before a microphone and gave a moving little speech before ducking into a luxury limousine provided by a radio station and everybody roared off to a welcome-home party.

"Limousine, huh?"

Leslie Vass watched the television report, and he read all of the words in the newspaper, and then he said the word again -- "limousine" -- still sounding awed, still remembering his own case after all this time and wondering why almost no one else seems to care about it.

Ultimately, only Kirk Noble Bloodsworth knows where he was Aug. 9, 1984, when somebody sexually assaulted and murdered 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton of Rosedale. And, ultimately, nobody knows better than Vass what Bloodsworth went through, and what still awaits him after nearly a decade in prison for a crime the state now says it cannot prove he committed.

A sophisticated new genetic test, unavailable when two juries were finding Bloodsworth guilty of murder, now says that semen stains found on the victim's underwear could not have come from Bloodsworth.

"Fantastic!" Bloodsworth cried when he walked out of the House of Correction.

"He has no idea what awaits him," Leslie Vass said in the soft tones of one who knows.

The same year Bloodsworth went inside, Vass ended his own decade behind bars. The state said he'd pulled an armed holdup. Not me, said Vass, who was 17 at the time and had never been in trouble. The state shrugged its shoulders and turned to more pressing matters. It took 10 years for the case of mistaken identity to be straightened out.

And then, all of a sudden, the state became very apologetic, and began giving Vass a total of $250,000 in installments. Kirk Bloodsworth, asked if the state could compensate him for his lost years, declared Monday, "They can't, but they ought to try."

"That man doesn't know what he's about to go through," Leslie Vass said yesterday.

More than anyone else, he knows. The money the state gave Vass is all gone now. He was 17 when he went in and, for all the worldly maturity and sophistication gained in prison, still 17 when he came out. Employers look at his decade in prison and do not wish to hire him. I can explain, Vass says. Sure, sure, the employers say.

"When I think about all that I lost," Vass said yesterday, and then his voice drifted away. It cannot be measured in money. In Vass' case, the man who'd been held up finally cleared him. In Bloodsworth's case, there can never be a victim to completely exonerate him.

Not his semen in the victim's underpants? But what if there were two attackers, and Bloodsworth was merely one of them? We don't know. What about witnesses who said they saw Bloodsworth with Dawn Hamilton in the woods, near the spot where her body was found? We don't know.

What about Bloodsworth referring to a bloody rock before anybody mentioned that it was a rock used to kill Dawn? What about Bloodsworth going to the Eastern Shore after the murder and telling people there that he'd done a "terrible thing" in Baltimore?

Answers are offered: police hadn't mentioned the bloody rock, but they put it on a desk while they questioned Bloodsworth. The "terrible thing" he mentioned was merely a domestic blowup with his wife, he says now.

But clouds will never entirely drift away from Bloodsworth: the doubts of those who still think he was somehow connected to the murder; but, also, those nine years in prison for a crime he still says he didn't commit.

And so, Monday afternoon, there was something unsettling about his exit from prison: a limousine ride while a little girl's murder remains unsolved; a declaration of innocence while prosecutors hedge on their language; and the words of Leslie Vass hanging in the air.

"Limousine," he said again. "Man, I hope he enjoyed that ride."

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