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Kirk Bloodsworth: The Problem with Circumstantial Evidence

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posted on Dec, 18 2004 @ 10:46 PM
The Laci Peterson case has brought to everyone's attention just how compelling circumstantial evidence can be, despite the impression given by all those Perry Mason episodes my generation grew up on. In 1984, Kirk Bloodsworth was accused of raping and killing a nine-year-old girl. In 1985, he was convicted. Despite some inconsistencies, he was identified as the man witnesses said they saw leaving the crime scene. His behavior after the crime was considered by police to suggest consciousness of guilt, including his having moved out of the area of the crime shortly after its commission. He was sentenced to death.

During the appeals process, Bloodsworth was granted a retrial based on assertions by his attorneys that the police had failed to follow up on all the leads in the case. He was convicted again. This time he was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1987, Bloodsworth received a book in the mail from a friend that detailed how British police had used DNA evidence to solve a crime. That book gave Bloodsworth the hope he needed and he pressed his lawyers to test the panties of the little girl. Attorney Robert E. Morin paid ten thousand dollars out of his own pocket for the test. A semen stain smaller than a dime revealed that Bloodsworth could not have been the killer. In June of 1993, Bloodsworth walked out of prison, a free man.

But doubts still remained in the minds of some.

Is Bloodsworth truly innocent? DNA or no DNA, Brobst and Lazzaro are not sure, though they said they don't want to see an innocent person behind bars.

They argue that it is unclear where the semen came from or when it got on the panties.

Lazzaro gave two scenarios: In the first scenario, Dawn puts her panties in the laundry hamper, where it gets mixed up with her dad's underwear. The girl, for whatever reason, takes the dirty panties out of the hamper and wears them on the day of her death. In the second scenario, two people raped and killed the girl; the other guy's semen got on the panties, "excluding" Bloodsworth.

"That semen stain could have come from anybody, either before or after the crime. The cumulative effect of all the evidence -- including his testimony -- leaves a bad taste in my mouth, still gives me pause. That DNA test has not diminished that pause," Lazzaro said. "As a legal matter he has been exonerated, but we'll never know if he didn't do it."

In 2003, Bloodsworth learned from his attorney that the real killer, Kimberly Shay Ruffner, a man Bloodsworth lifted weights with while he was in prison. Ruffner had been in police custody and prison since only a month following the crime for which Bloodsworth was twice convicted.

At a Burger King on Maryland's Eastern Shore yesterday, Kirk Bloodsworth sat down with the prosecutor who helped send him to death row for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. Nearly two decades later, Ann Brobst told him, DNA had identified the man who had really done it.

"We got a hit on a guy," he remembers hearing, in the immeasurable fraction of a moment before he began weeping, realizing the words' import, realizing that the state at last considered him a completely innocent man. Beside him, his wife, Brenda, broke down and wept, too.

"You know how long I've waited to hear you say that?" Bloodsworth asked Brobst, who twice persuaded a jury to convict him of Dawn Hamilton's brutal death -- and who yesterday apologized for how that shattered his life.

But there was more. The suspect, Brobst went on, is already in prison in Maryland, halfway through a 45-year sentence for burglary, attempted rape and assault with intent to murder. His name: Kimberly Shay Ruffner.

"My God," Bloodsworth said, "I know him."

Bloodsworth's struggle calls to mind the words of the Founding Father:

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which
difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.--Thomas Jefferson

There are some lessons to be learned here, I think. What can you draw from the story of Kirk Bloodsworth?

A book has been published about Bloodsworth's travails:

posted on Dec, 27 2004 @ 03:52 PM
Well I believe the lesson here is that people should not put too much stock into circumstantial evidance. Even though this guy may have seemed guilty as sin, apparently with the absense of hard evidance he still got convicted and that feels wrong to me. O.J. got off not because of lack of evidance as there were lots against him, the Cops botched the case. DNA analysis is fairly accurate but the article is also right that the semen could have got there other ways. Doesn't the law say "Beyond a Shadow of a doubt"? There seems to be lots of doubt in my mind about any case that is based purely on soft evidance so if I was on say Scott Petersons jury I probably would not have wanted to convict him because of the lack of evidance. Emotional testimonies IMO should not be allowed in cases where the life of the defendant is likely at stake. Thats just my opinion though.

posted on Dec, 27 2004 @ 11:02 PM
Eyewitness accounts are notoriously inaccurate.

Judges don't allow the jury to know when a witness'es testimony may be suspect. Like a jail-house stoolie who has made a 'special' deal with the DA. Or the hateful ex-wife or crooked business partner or the expert who is making $50,000 to testify for one side or the other.

The police do a notoriously bad job of crime scene securement and analysis.

As great as all the CSI and forensic TV shows you see are, they are a myth. Budget constraints in all but the most politically 'hot' cases cause it to be an expedited process. Public servants, police, etc are barraged with a plethora of cases and tired rather than excited and inspired.

The decisions are often emotionally and politically driven rather than fact based and truth seeking.

And we all know how the public at large hates ambiguity.
Correct me if wrong, but honestly don't you think most people would rather have the self-righteous feel good of a false certainty than some hanging open-ended unknown.

I myself don't love ambiguity either, but would rather accept it than falsehoods for truth.

Perhaps someday there will be a species that worships the search for truth and is willing to make the personal and financial commitments to that.

Welcome to the land of fog and uncertainty. Infinite shades of grey.

Try this one, "The jury says there is a 69% probability of the defendant being guilty"


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