In the July 2023 episode of Discussions with DPIC, Anne Holsinger, Managing Director of DPIC, speaks with Kirk Bloodsworth (pictured), the first person exonerated from death row by DNA evidence. Mr. Bloodsworth reflects on the thirty years since his exoneration and discusses the experience of being wrongfully convicted. He also describes the work he and other exonerees have done, and how the issue of innocence has affected legislation on the death penalty.

Though DNA testing has become more widespread in the three decades since Mr. Bloodsworth’s exoneration, he explains that more needs to be done to address wrongful convictions. Referencing the 192 people exonerated from death row, he says, “if there was a bunch of planes or a plane that 192 people were killed, we would have the greatest panel of investigations on this, and we haven’t had it.” He also describes how difficult it can be to overturn a wrongful conviction, in part because of the dehumanization that comes with being convicted of a crime: “once they slam the door on you as a human being, you don’t have much of a choice for any type of study.” “If you’d have actual claims of innocence, you have to jump through all these proverbial hoops in life, and you shouldn’t have to do that,” he says.

Mr. Bloodsworth describes how his case influenced Maryland legislators to abolish the death penalty, noting that his name was mentioned over 60 times during the legislative debate, but notes that innocence is just one of many problems with capital punishment. “It costs way more, three times as much as any other trial and honestly, you don’t get it all the time anyway,” he explains. He also points to the economic disparities in death sentences, saying simply, “the rich don’t get it and the poor do.”

He concludes by discussing the important work of Witness to Innocence, an organization of death row exonerees who share their stories around the world. He asks those who encounter exonerees to make a human connection with them: “if you see the exonerated death row survivor… or an exoneree period, shake their hand and tell them welcome home.”


Discussions with DPIC pod­cast, Kirk Bloodsworth, Thirty Years After His Exoneration, Death Penalty Information Center, July 242023