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DNA that freed man leads to new suspect

Sun Reporter

The same DNA evidence that freed Kirk Bloodsworth from prison 10 years agohas now implicated another man in the 1984 rape and murder of 9-year-old DawnHamilton of Rosedale, quashing any lingering questions about Bloodsworth'sinvolvement in the crime.

Kimberly Shay Ruffner, a 45-year-old convicted sex offender who went toprison for an attempted rape and attempted murder in Fells Point only weeksafter Dawn Hamilton was killed, was charged yesterday with first-degreemurder.

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office - which had never publiclyacknowledged Bloodsworth's innocence - announced the development, and aprosecutor apologized to Bloodsworth in person.

"Even though I was cleared, there were so many people who didn't believeme," said Bloodsworth, 42, who was reached at his home in Cambridge. "This isthe proof everyone needs."

Ruffner is still in prison for the Fells Point attack, with a release dateof 2020. Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said prosecutorswill seek the death penalty in Dawn's killing.

"This was a horrendous rape-murder of a 9-year-old girl," O'Connor said."Whether or not he is incarcerated, he will be held accountable."

While Bloodsworth's supporters said they were delighted with the outcome,they criticized Baltimore County law enforcement officials for not testing theDNA earlier.

In June, The Sun wrote that the DNA in Bloodsworth's case had not beencompared to the state's DNA database of convicted felons. As a convicted sexoffender, Ruffner's DNA would have been in the state's database as early as1994.

Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey said the comparison was madelast month.

"I can't tell you how pleased I am for Kirk, but what happened here todayshould have happened earlier," said Barry C. Scheck, the co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, which tries to free the wrongly convicted.

Delay in testing

Scheck, who helped exonerate Bloodsworth, said he has been asking for thissort of testing for years. It was after Scheck's most recent letter to theBaltimore County State's Attorney's Office that police and prosecutors startedmoving toward testing the DNA against the database, The Sun reported in June.

Yesterday morning, Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst, who prosecutedBloodsworth and who had been criticized by his supporters for refusing toadmit his innocence, went to Bloodsworth's home to tell him the news.

"She apologized up and down," Bloodsworth said yesterday. "She had to eat alot of crow to come. You've got to give her something for it."

O'Connor said Dawn's father, Thomas Hamilton, was also told of the newarrest. He was unavailable for comment.

Death row, then life

Bloodsworth was convicted of Dawn's murder in 1985 and sent to death row.Multiple witnesses had testified that they saw him near the crime scene.

The next year, the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. Butwhen Bloodsworth was retried, he was again found guilty and this timesentenced to life in prison.

In 1992, prosecutors agreed to run DNA tests on a semen stain found onDawn's underwear - a stain that law enforcement officials said they had notnoticed earlier. Those tests showed that Bloodsworth was not the person whohad sexually assaulted the little girl.

Prosecutors agreed to release Bloodsworth immediately but would notapologize or say he was innocent.

"I believe that he is not guilty," O'Connor said at the time. "I'm notprepared to say he's innocent. Only the people who were there know whathappened."

Lingering doubts

Bloodsworth was pardoned by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and given$300,000 from the state. But life after prison was a struggle, one that he nowtalks about openly.

At first, he had trouble holding jobs and grappled with freedom after nineyears behind bars. He heard the derogatory whispers and saw the dirty looks.He once wiped the scrawled words "Child Killer" off his car.

"He has confided to me many, many times that people echo what Ann Brobstkept saying: [The DNA] doesn't mean he's innocent," Scheck said.

In recent years, Bloodsworth married and started working as a consultantfor the Justice Project, a Washington advocacy group for justice reform. Hehas testified for lawmakers and spoken in classrooms across the country aboutthe importance of DNA evidence.

In his own case, he said he has pushed for years for county law enforcementto run the preserved DNA evidence through the state's database.

A month after Dawn Hamilton was killed, Kimberly Ruffner was arrested forthe Fells Point attack.

He had broken into a woman's house Aug. 28, 1984, and had tried to rapeher, police said. When she struggled, he tried to kill her with a pair ofscissors. The woman managed to escape, and police found Ruffner hours later.

He was tried and convicted of breaking and entering, assault with intent tomurder and attempted rape, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the MarylandDepartment of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He was sentenced to 45years in prison.

According to court records, Ruffner had been charged with two other sexoffenses in 1983.

In the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup, Ruffner slept on thetier below Bloodsworth in the same building.

The two men lifted weights together, and Bloodsworth, who worked in theprison library, would give him books, Bloodsworth said. They both had redhair. But Bloodsworth said they were nothing more than acquaintances.

Not once, Bloodsworth said, did Ruffner indicate that he was responsiblefor Dawn's murder.

"It's spooky," Bloodsworth said. "The whole time he was there. I just can'tget over it."

Case timeline

July 1984 - The body of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton is found in a wooded areanear the Fontana Village apartments in Rosedale, Baltimore County.

August 1984 - Police arrest and charge Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, a formerwaterman from Cambridge, in Dawn Hamilton's death.

Also, Kimberly Shay Ruffner is arrested on charges of breaking andentering, assault with intent to murder and attempted rape after attacking aFells Point woman with a pair of scissors.

March 1985 - A jury convicts Bloodsworth of Dawn Hamilton's murder.Baltimore County Judge J. William Hinkel sentences Bloodsworth to death.

July 1985 - Ruffner is convicted on charges in the Fells Point attack andis sentenced to 45 years in prison.

July 1986 - The Maryland Court of Appeals overturns Bloodsworth'sconviction, saying prosecutors withheld evidence about another suspect.

April 1987 - A second jury convicts Bloodsworth of murder. He is sentencedto two consecutive life terms - one for sexual assault and the other formurder.

April 1992 - At the request of Bloodsworth's attorney, Baltimore Countyprosecutors agree to release evidence from Bloodsworth's trial - panties, ashirt and a stick - for DNA testing.

May 1993 - A California DNA lab reports that a semen stain on the victim'spanties cannot have come from Bloodsworth.

June 25, 1993 - The FBI, conducting its own test, agrees the semen found onthe panties could not have come from Bloodsworth.

June 28, 1993 - Bloodsworth walks out of the House of Correction in Jessup,a free man.

December 1993 - Gov. William Donald Schaefer pardons Bloodsworth.

June 22, 1994 - Bloodsworth is awarded $300,000 by the state of Marylandfor nine years of wrongful imprisonment.

Sept. 5, 2003 - Baltimore County Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst,who prosecuted Bloodsworth, visits him at his Cambridge home and tells himfurther DNA tests matched the semen found in Dawn Hamilton's panties toRuffner, a Maryland prison inmate.

She also apologizes.

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