July 24

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 24, 1984:

A nine-year-old's murder puts an innocent man in jail

The body of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton is found in a wooded area of Rosedale, Maryland, near her home. The young girl had been raped and beaten to death with a rock. Unfortunately, Hamilton and her family were not the only ones to suffer because of this terrible crime.

After witnesses saw a suspicious man in the area of the murder scene, a police sketch was publicized on television and in newspapers. Two weeks later, an anonymous caller identified Kirk Bloodsworth, a 23-year-old ex-Marine, as the man in the sketch. Bloodsworth, who had been in Baltimore (which is close to Rosedale) at the time of Hamilton's murder, later returned to his home in Cambridge and told friends that he had done something that would harm his marriage.

Prosecutors, with little evidence other than this, accused Bloodsworth of murder. During the trial in 1985, the defense presented several witnesses who said that they were with Bloodsworth at the time of the murder. Disregarding his alibi, the jury convicted Bloodsworth and sent him to death row.

For the next seven years, Bloodsworth maintained his innocence while in prison. In the meantime, forensic DNA testing had come of age. On Dawn Hamilton's underwear, police had a spot of semen, smaller than a dime, and science had finally progressed to the point where this small amount of physical evidence could be tested. When Bloodsworth's attorneys were eventually granted permission to test the semen spot, Forensic Science Associates, a private California laboratory, found that it did not match Bloodsworth's DNA.

After the FBI's crime lab confirmed this test, prosecutors in Baltimore County had no choice but to release Bloodsworth (but pointedly refused to apologize). On June 28, 1993, nine years after first going to jail, Kirk Bloodsworth was released. He was officially pardoned later in the year.

Since the advent of forensic DNA testing, as many as 50 prisoners have been found innocent of crimes for which they had been convicted.

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