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Editorial: Bloodsworth case should give death penalty supporters pause

It’s hard to imagine a more compelling argument against the death penalty than the remarkable case of Kirk Bloodsworth, an innocent man who narrowly escaped lethal injection and now devotes his life to fighting capital punishment across the country.

Bloodsworth, who met with Monitor editors last week, was in New Hampshire to aid a group pushing to repeal the state’s death penalty. For legislators on the fence – and even those secure in their support for the statute – his story is worth paying attention to. His simple, powerful message will no doubt give pause to even the most resolute supporters of capital punishment: If this could happen to me, it could happen to you.

As reporter Annmarie Timmins recounted in the Sunday Monitor, Bloodsworth was wrongly accused of the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Baltimore. He had no criminal record and had served honorably in the Marines. But through a combination of faulty witness statements and Kafka-esque bad luck, he was convicted – twice – and sentenced to death row. He served nearly a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit – a prison so foul that Bloodsworth remembers stuffing toilet paper in his ears at night to keep the roaches out. Finally, his lawyer was able to use the then-new science of DNA testing to prove Bloodsworth’s innocence, and he was freed. The true killer turned out to be a man serving time in a Maryland prison for other crimes, living right alongside Bloodsworth.

The time is right for a new discussion about New Hampshire’s death penalty. In recent memory, no governor has countenanced a repeal; when such a measure passed the Legislature in 2000, then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it. But Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she would sign a repeal bill, giving new hope to its supporters and new urgency to a serious debate in the 2014 legislative session.

At the time of Shaheen’s veto, she said some crimes were so heinous that the death penalty was appropriate. She specifically cited the 1997 case of Carl Drega, who went on a bloody rampage in the North Country before being killed himself. More recently, supporters of New Hampshire’s capital punishment statute have cited the case of Michael Addison, convicted of killing a Manchester police officer and now sitting on death row. And they have cited the 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion case, in which Kimberly Cates was murdered and her daughter badly injured by four young men who attacked them with knives and machetes. New Hampshire’s capital punishment statute was recently expanded to include similar crimes.

All three cases were senseless and terrifying. But there is no evidence that executing the perpetrators would deter others intent on similar mayhem. And, as New Hampshire taxpayers will likely find out in the Addison case, the cost of pursuing years of legal appeals will far outpace the cost of keeping the murderer behind bars for life. The death penalty might give some grim satisfaction to proponents, but to what practical effect?

Death-penalty proponents have long argued that the state has used its capital murder statute sparingly, that the state’s prosecutors and public defenders are highly regarded, that DNA makes mistakes improbable today.

Bloodsworth speaks compellingly about how the prosecutors in his two trials were smart and competent and still botched his case. And, more chilling still, when he initially attempted to get his hands on the case evidence to submit it to DNA testing, he was told by the prosecutor that it had been inadvertently destroyed. Then, through the sort of luck that happens only in Hollywood, Bloodsworth’s lawyer had a chance encounter with a court clerk who told him otherwise: Hidden away in the judge’s closet, the evidence was intact.

Evidence does get lost or destroyed. Good lawyers, judges and juries do make mistakes. Innocent people can be wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, wrongly put to death. Without capital punishment, New Hampshire could make sure that the worst of these wrongs would never happen here.

Legacy Comments12

Judging the ideals or motives of Mr. Bloodworth will cause you to trip over your own sophistry. You have no right to question his moral principles. Like always, this debate is 2 dimensional. This or that, like so much else in our country, with little or no thought to other ideas. Perhaps the answer to death penalty cases is putting standards of proof in place. If a prosecutor can't meet them, then the case can't result in a sentence of death. No exceptions. Scott Peterson is on death row in California, without a shred of basic, unquestionable physical evidence in the record. We should not be allowing this to happen to anybody, no matter how beady their eyes or guilty they look, which are both common examples of what people said about him. But he sits there in a cell every day, convicted and sentenced to death with circumstantial evidence only. There are many others in the same situation. I don't support abolishing the death penalty but I do think we have the technology in place to use it much more wisely.

You have to be kidding when you say that Scott Peterson had no physical evidence in his case. What about the boat, the concrete that he mixed, etc. What about Manson?

Do your homework. There is not a shred of good, solid physical evidence against him. Nothing, zip.They found a hair or hers in his boat, so what? Is there a reason a hair of hers shouldn't be there? No blood. He mixed concrete, so? I mixed some 3 days ago. So what? He had an affair, happens all the time these days, but it doesn't mean he killed his pregnant wife. And, I have not said he didn't do it. I did however, suggest we use higher standards of proof when we impose the death sentence. No sir, I am not kidding.

Death penalty debates tend to focus on statistics, and these statistics very definitely tend to be loaded by one side, and then the other. There will never be resolution therein. Conceptually, does the death penalty deter? It sure doesn't deter everyone, IMHO simply because a good percentage of killers simply believe that they will not be caught. Are innocent people ever convicted, sentenced, and executed? Most certainly. See, for example, Scheck/Neufeld/Dwyer "Actual Innocence". We know execution is a much more expensive process than life without parole. Finally, I do not like leaving the door open for the State to practice elective (not immediate self defense) killing. Once you do leave that door open, well… see for example China's traveling execution vans for so many different offenses.

Stick your head in the sand if you want but the death penalty kills everyone innocent people too. Everyone has an opinion, but if your opinion is the world is flat, You might want to go into space where you can see it for yourself.

Better to let a guilty man go free than convict an innocent one. Doc

The 142 "exonerated" is a well known fraud, easily discovered by the most basic of fact checking, which even the New York Times did and found a 66-75% error rate in the exoneration claims, in ine with the other reviews, finding a 70-83% error rate. a) The 130 (now 142) death row "innocents" scam b) The "Innocent", the "Exonerated" and Death Row ======= The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy and THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES 0 All attributions to Dudley Sharp

If Wikipedia is wrong - then fix it. And how can the number actually matter? If the state kills one innocent person - we are all guilty of murder.

Worth mentioning Kirk Bloodsworth was not even on death row when he was released from prison.Fact checking would be Miss.Timmins undoing.

What error? He was tried twice - the first sentenced him to the death chamber. If he hadn't had a wonderful lawyer and determination to get exonerated - he would have been put to death. It is worth mentioning that there are several goals this fine man is working toward. One is to end the death penalty, the second is to use DNA testing for proof rather than rely just on eye witnesses that too often get it wrong.

Bloodsworth is so odd. He acts as if he has no understanding of the topic. He thinks it better that murderers receive life so they can think about their crimes. As a rule, murderers will not be suffering the guilt of murder. If they think about their crimes it is to revel in them. Sociopaths have no remorse. About 99.8% of murderers subject to the death penalty do everything they can to avoid it. Why? Because death is feared more than life and life is preferred over death. No surprise. That also tells us that the death penalty is an enhanced deterrent over life. As the death penalty protects innocent lives, in at least three ways, over a life sentence, one wonders why Bloodsworth is not an advocate for the death penalty, if his real concern is for innocent lives.

Walk a mile in his shoes, and see if this wont open your eyes! Let's hope this same situation doesn't happen to you!

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