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Maryland government OKs payment for man exonerated by DNA evidence

Kirk Bloodsworth, who was imprisoned for more than eight years for a high-profile crime that he did not commit, was awarded additional compensation from the state of Maryland on Wednesday.

The Maryland Board of Public Works signed off on awarding Bloodsworth $421,237.40, on top of the $300,000 he was awarded following his pardon and release in 1993.

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Bloodsworth, 60, was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton in Baltimore County in 1985. He was the first person sentenced to death in the United States who was exonerated by DNA evidence, though it took several years of persistent appeals and efforts by Bloodsworth and his lawyers.

Another man, Kimberly Shay Ruffner, eventually pleaded guilty to the crimes.

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At the time the state paid Bloodsworth compensation for his years behind bars, such awards were negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Last year, Maryland lawmakers passed a law setting a formula for compensating those who were wrongly imprisoned, by multiplying the number of days behind bars by the average median income in the state. The law, named the Walter Lomax Act for another wrongly imprisoned man who was exonerated, also allows the state to award other benefits, such as housing, health care, education and job training.

The Walter Lomax Act also includes a provision for previously-compensated exonerees, such as Bloodsworth, to apply for additional payments to bring them in line with the current formula.

Bloodsworth, who has advocated for criminal justice reforms, testified before lawmakers in favor of the law.

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“I was 23 when this all started and I’m still trying to fight for the rights we should have had a long time ago,” he told lawmakers in 2021. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me and all the other exonerees.”

Bloodsworth is the first person to use that provision of the law allowing for additional compensation.

A state administrative judge ruled that Bloodsworth’s total compensation should be valued at $721,237.40 under the new formula. The state deducted Bloodsworth’s initial payment of $300,000 to arrive at the $421,237.40 that the Board of Public Works approved Wednesday.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a member of the Board of Public Works, said the payment was more meaningful than how it was “antiseptically” described in state documents.

“He was put in prison for years, unjustly, wrongly … I just want to recognize again that Maryland is attempting to right the wrongs that we committed,” said Kopp, a Democrat.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, another board member, called Bloodsworth’s case a sad example of “a justice system that is broken in so many ways.”

“It’s well-deserved,” said Franchot, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2022. “Lots of his life was taken from him erroneously. I hope this additional compensation will bring some solace and a sense of vindication.”

The other member of the board, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, did not comment but joined Kopp and Franchot in a unanimous vote for Bloodsworth’s compensation.

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