Kirk Bloodsworth, who in 1993 became the first death row inmate freed from prison on DNA evidence, will speak about his experience and the danger of executions in a flawed justice system at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church.
Mr. Bloodsworth, a fisherman and former Marine, was sentenced to death in 1985, when he was 24, for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland. His original conviction was overturned in 1986 because prosecutors had withheld evidence that could have helped his case. He was then retried, convicted and given two life sentences on the basis of mistaken witness testimony and what his advocates described as "junk science."
In 1992, Centurion Ministries -- which assists those who may have been wrongly convicted -- helped him obtain court-ordered DNA testing. It showed he couldn't have committed the crime. He was released in 1993 and pardoned in 1994.
A decade after his release, a forensic biologist again used DNA evidence to identify the real killer -- a convicted rapist who had served time alongside Mr. Bloodsworth. Since his release Mr. Bloodsworth has been an activist against the death penalty. More than 130 death row inmates have been freed by DNA evidence.
His visit is sponsored by Pittsburgh Faith in Action Against the Death Penalty, a coalition of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations working for a death penalty moratorium in Pennsylvania.
"We've done a lot in the city of Pittsburgh, but this is the first time we've broken into the suburbs," said Dorothy Miller, a Saint Paul Cathedral representative to Pittsburgh Faith in Action. The group is an independent offshoot of Amnesty International, having broken away in 2007 after Amnesty began advocating for abortion rights.
Polls from Pew and Gallup indicate that opponents of the death penalty remain a minority, but that their percentage has doubled to about one-third since 1985. Other pollsters have found that a majority of respondents will oppose the death penalty when presented with such clear alternatives as life in prison without parole.
It's not an easy topic to address with churches, even though many of them officially oppose capital punishment, but it's getting easier, Ms. Miller said.
"We find it hard going. A lot of people just ignore their own church's teaching on it," she said. "But we find that we are making real headway slowly. Probably the most important thing to people who change their mind is the danger of executing an innocent person."
For more information contact 412-681-8528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com or 412-263-1416. First Published February 21, 2012 5:00 AM