Same Case, DNA Clears Convict and Finds Suspect
The New York Times
September 6, 2003
5 — In his final years in prison, Kirk Bloodsworth had a
passing acquaintance with a fellow inmate, Kimberly Shay Ruffner.
Mr. Bloodsworth, a prison librarian, delivered books to Mr. Ruffner.
Sometimes they lifted weights together. But Mr. Bloodsworth said
Mr. Ruffner seemed to behave "kind of peculiar" when
they were together.
Mr. Bloodsworth may
now know the reason why. This morning, the police in Baltimore
County charged Mr. Ruffner in the murder and rape of a 9-year-old
in 1984, Dawn Hamilton, the very crime that Mr. Bloodsworth was
serving time for when he met Mr. Ruffner.
"I'm so happy,"
said Mr. Bloodsworth, 43, a fisherman from Cambridge, Md. "This
tells the world that I'm innocent."
The charges against
Mr. Ruffner open a new chapter in a case that has become a prime
example of the two-edged nature of DNA testing: not only as a
means of clearing the wrongly accused, but also of identifying
new suspects in cold cases.
In 1993, Mr. Bloodsworth
became the first person in the nation convicted in a death penalty
case to be exonerated through DNA testing, which eliminated him
as a source of semen stains on the girl's underpants. He had served
nine years in prison, including two on death row, when he was
released by a judge and pardoned by the governor.
Last spring, a Baltimore
County forensic biologist who was studying evidence from the case
found stains on a sheet that had not been analyzed, a spokesman
for the Police Department said. Investigators conducted DNA tests
on the stains and ran the results through a national database
last month. Mr. Ruffner's name popped up.
The police did not
have to go far to charge Mr. Ruffner. He was still serving time
for attempted rape and attempted murder in the prison in Baltimore
where he had met Mr. Bloodsworth.
Defense lawyers say
they hope the dual use of DNA evidence in the case will reduce
resistance among prosecutors to allow prisoners to challenge convictions
with DNA tests. They say the case demonstrates that DNA can not
only prove innocence, but also pinpoint culprits.
the nation, would be remiss if we did not learn from today's news,"
said Peter Loge, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Education
Fund, which has championed Mr. Bloodsworth's case.
The new charges were
filed at a crucial time in a debate in Florida over a law from
2001 that will soon bar prisoners from seeking DNA testing for
old cases. The law set Oct. 1 as the deadline for such requests.
It also allows the destruction of DNA evidence, except in death
Defense lawyers contend
that the Hamilton case clearly shows how DNA can be used to reopen
cold cases. If a law like Florida's had been in effect in Maryland
12 years ago, they say, Mr. Bloodsworth would still be behind
be a cautionary tale to those in Florida who are insisting on
this deadline for destroying biological evidence," said Barry
Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin L.
Cardozo Law School in Manhattan. "It's a law enforcement
contend that DNA testing, though reliable, is not a sure-fire
way to prove innocence where there is other evidence of guilt.
DNA testing, they say, should be seen as only one piece of a bigger
"I don't know
of many people in my business who don't see the accuracy of DNA
testing," George W. Clarke, deputy district attorney for
San Diego County, said. "It's more the significance of those
results. Those questions aren't about to go away."
For Mr. Bloodsworth,
today's developments had a far more personal significance. Though
he was pardoned a decade ago, he said some people had continued
to view him as a child murderer. Worse, he feared that prosecutors
remained convinced of his guilt and might try to bring new charges
So after the assistant
state's attorney who had prosecuted him, Ann Brobst, called him
on Thursday night to ask for a meeting, Mr. Bloodsworth and his
wife could not sleep.
"We were prepared
for anything," Mr. Bloodsworth's lawyer, Deborah Crandall,
Instead, in a meeting
this morning at a Burger King, Ms. Brobst told Mr. Bloodsworth
of the DNA evidence against Mr. Ruffner and apologized for wrongly
prosecuting him. Mr. Bloodsworth, who has become an outspoken
advocate for reforming federal death penalty laws, said he cried
and then hugged Ms. Brobst.
In an interview,
the state's attorney for Baltimore County, Sandra A. O'Connor,
said that the police and prosecutors had acted responsibly in
the case, but that DNA technology did not exist at the time of
Mr. Bloodsworth's trial. What did exist were the statements of
five witnesses who said they saw him with the girl on the day
she was killed.
Ms. O'connor said, "the system failed in the case of Mr.