First Man Released From Death Row by DNA Testing to Speak at the School of Law

Lexington, VA • Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man freed from death row by post-conviction DNA testing will speak at the School of Law on Wednesday, October 5th at 6:00 p.m. in Classroom B. Bloodsworth will be followed by Donald Salzman, from the Skadden Arps law firm in Washington, D.C. Salzman coordinates the pro bono practice of the firm’s Washington lawyers and represents pro bono clients.

This event is sponsored by the organization Students for an Innocence Project (SFIP) and is free and open to the public. The purpose of Students for an Innocence Project is to provide a forum for education and dialogue among students, professors, and members of the legal community regarding the common causes of wrongful conviction of the innocent and to establish an Innocence Project at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Bloodsworth, a former Marine, was convicted in 1984 of sexual assault, rape, and first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to death. The ruling was appealed on the grounds that evidence was withheld at trial, and after receiving a new trial, he was found guilty again and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. 

Evidence from the crime scene was finally tested for DNA in 1993, and final reports from state and federal labs concluded that Bloodsworth's DNA did not match any of the evidence received for testing. By the time of his release, Bloodsworth had spent nearly nine years in prison, including two on death row. Almost a decade after his release, the Maryland State’s Attorney announced that a DNA match had been made in the nearly 20-year-old case. That person pled guilty on May 20, 2004 to the murder for which Bloodsworth had been wrongfully convicted. 

Bloodsworth’s 20-year journey is chronicled in the book Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA written by Tim Junkin. Bloodsworth will be signing copies of the book after the event. 

Today, Bloodsworth is a Program Officer for The Justice Project’s Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform and the Justice Project Education Fund, and he has been an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) since its introduction in Congress in February 2000.  The IPA includes the “Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program,” a program that helps states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.

Donald P. Salzman joined Skadden’s Washington office as pro bono counsel in September 2002. After starting his career at a major multi-practice law firm in the areas of general litigation and first amendment law, Mr. Salzman joined the Office of the Public Defender in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1988 as an assistant public defender. During his nearly 15-year tenure in the Office of the Public Defender, he represented clients at every level in the criminal justice system, including juveniles and adults in misdemeanor, felony and capital cases.

He became a felony trial attorney in 1989 and went on to handle the most serious aggravated felonies. Between 1996 and 2002, Mr. Salzman was a supervisor in the Office of the Public Defender, first overseeing a felony trial team and, later, training and supervising entry-level lawyers while continuing to handle a serious-felony caseload. Mr. Salzman has tried more than 65 felony jury trials and countless misdemeanor cases.

While at Office of the Public Defender, Mr. Salzman started a novel pro bono representation partnership project, involving a collaboration between the Office of the Public Defender, Skadden and other prominent Washington, D.C. law firms. The project provides training and consultation to firm lawyers who agree to represent felony and misdemeanor clients on a pro bono basis in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland.

In 1994, Mr. Salzman was named the Allen Murrell award recipient as the outstanding Maryland public defender. He is a past president and current board member of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

“SFIP is incredibly excited and honored to be hosting this event,” said Laura Hastay 06L, president of SFIP. “Mr. Bloodsworth’s story poignantly highlights many of the problems that plague the American criminal justice system and provides insight that is valuable to the legal community and the general public.”

Hastay added, “Mr. Salzman is well-qualified to inform the audience members about what they can do to make a difference in this area, and he is also a great role model for students and attorneys. We sincerely invite everyone to attend.”

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