Kirk Bloodworth was wrongly convicted of homicide in 1983. He was freed from death row after two years, but remained in prison for eight more years before DNA evidence proved he was not connected with the crime. Even then, only the assistance of a dedicated attorney helped win Kirk's freedom. Governor Schaefer granted Mr. Bloodsworth a full pardon in 1993. Despite the conclusive nature of the evidence and governor's pardon, the State refused to admit that it had made a mistake in convicting Kirk.
The actual perpetrator, a man named Kimberly Shay Ruffner, was serving time for rape convictions in Baltimore City. In prison, Ruffner lived below Kirk and Kirk had even helped him with work in the prison's library. In 2004, Ruffner was sentenced to life in prison. Had the state simply acknowledged Kirk's innocence and entered the DNA from the evidence into their database when Kirk was cleared in 1993, Ruffner's guilt would have been determined almost a decade earlier, thus sparing the family of the victim years of not knowing who had killed their daughter.
When he was originally arrested he had had never before been in trouble with the law and had just recently been discharged from the US Marines.
We must fight to be sure that no more Kirk Bloodsworths ever wind up on death row.
In 1984, Vernon Evans and Anthony Grandison were convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 contract killing of David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy in Baltimore County. Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, were scheduled to testify against Grandison in a federal drug trial were the target of a hit for which Grandison had paid Evans $9000.
Evans grew up surrounded by violence. He suffered frequent, severe beatings at the hands of his father and was sexually assaulted by a stranger as a young boy. On the streets of his Baltimore neighborhood, he regularly witnessed crime and brutality. His first suicide attempt came at the age of ten. Evans received no treatment, and he turned to alcohol and drugs in his early teens.
The jury that sentenced him to death never heard the facts about Evans' childhood, which it may well have convinced them to sentence him to life instead of death. While his attorneys hired a mitigation investigator, they explicitly directed her not to perform an investigation. Another Baltimore County prisoner, Kevin Wiggins, has his death sentence set aside because his jury never learned of the cruelty of his childhood.
John Booth-El was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of an elderly Pimlico couple. Booth-El is currently the only death row inmate prosecuted and sentenced in Baltimore City, the jurisdiction in which the majority of Maryland murders overwhelmingly occur.
Heath Burch was convicted of killing his neighbors, Robert and Cleo Davis in 1995 in their Capitol Heights home. At the time of the murders Burch, a habitual drug user with a long-standing addiction to crack-cocaine, was high on crack-cocaine, PCP, and alcohol.
During the sentencing phase of his trial, a single verdict sheet both victims - as opposed to one sheet for each victim, as required by Maryland law - was submitted to the jury. The jury returned the single verdict sheet with a sentence of death. Although the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed that the sentencing was flawed, they struck only the death sentence for Cleo Davis, leaving the other death sentence upheld.
Questions remain as to how this case resulted in a death sentence. While absolutely a terrible crime, the murders for which Burch was convicted are not among the worst to be committed in Prince George's history. Additionally, Burch fully admitted to the crime and would have pled guilty and accepted a sentence of life without the possibility of parole - the sentence that results from the majority of death-eligible crimes in the county - at the time of the trial.
Convicted in 1998 in Wicomico County for the robbery and murder of Edward Joseph Atkinson, Jody Miles has not yet exhausted his appeals. Before his arrest and series of trials, he had been a farmer in rural Maryland.
Miles' confession was first obtained via a neighbor whose police scanner picked up a cell phone conversation between Miles and his wife - the murder being fresh news, his neighbor taped the conversation and turned it over to police. The police then searched the Miles' properties, interrogated his wife, and arrested Miles. He eventually made a confession to police as well.
In court, Miles' attorneys motioned to suppress the tape and evidence obtained as a result on the grounds that Maryland law forbids the recording of private communication without the consent of all parties. The judge did exclude this information, but also ruled that both his confession and his wife's incriminating statements were admissible as evidence. At his trial, Miles was found guilty of murder and robbery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to death.
Despite some concern over the unanimity of the jury's verdict, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld both his conviction and sentence. When the challenges were raised in a petition for writ of certiorari in the US Supreme Court, the Court declined to take the case.
In May of 2000, Lawrence Borchardt was convicted of the murder of an elderly Rosedale couple, committed on Thanksgiving day in 1998. Borchardt, who was a heroin addict at the time, stabbed the couple while robbing them of money to fund his habit.
Borchardt's case illuminates the stark geographic disparities in Maryland's death penalty system. He was prosecuted by Baltimore County (although the trial was held in Anne Arundel) while the defendant in another strikingly similar home-invasion case, Michael Stewart, received a sentence of life without parole in Baltimore City. Both crimes were committed in November 1998; both men had elderly victims whom they were robbing for drug money. And, while Borchardt eventually confessed to the crime while Stewart did not, the families of both victims supported capital prosecutions.
In 2005, with post-conviction proceedings set to begin, Borchardt wrote a letter to Governor Ehrlich waiving his right to appeal. Since his arrest he had maintained that, if sentenced to death, he wanted it carried out. Borchardt was awaiting a decision from the Maryland Court of Appeals after a new sentencing hearing was granted by the Circuit Court (the State appealed) when, in March of 2007, he died after a long battle with diabetes and liver disease. He was found collapsed in his cell and taken to Mercy Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
In 1980, Eugene Colvin-El was convicted and sentenced to death for murder of an 82-year old Florida woman who was visiting her daughter in Baltimore County. Although Colvin-El's fingerprints were obtained from broken glass outside of the house, he maintained his innocence and there was some significant evidence to support his claim - the back door though which he allegedly entered the house could only be opened about four inches and witnesses had become suspicious upon seeing "persons" outside of the house at the time of the crime. Even further, due to a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood, police had identified other possible suspects. Evidence of another perpetrator was even more bolstered after investigators lifted an unidentified fingerprint from a piece of paper inside the victim's handbag, which had been ransacked - the prosecution, however, withheld this evidence at the time of the first trial.
The attorney who represented him during his initial trial had never before worked on a capital case and failed to introduce the evidence casting doubt on Colvin-El's guilt. The Maryland Court of Appeals did grant him a new sentencing hearing, but not because of the prosecutorial misconduct or lack of adequate representation, but because the state's attorneys had improperly used Colvin-El's juvenile record to obtain the capital conviction. However, in 1992, he was resentenced to death.
Six years later, Colvin-El's death sentenced was again overturned, this time by a judge in a federal district court. This time the decision was based on the ineffective counsel Colvin-El received during the guilt phase of his first trial, noting his attorney's failure to introduce the evidence of other suspects who could have committed the crime. A year later, in 1999, the highly conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decision and Colvin-El was back on Maryland's death row.
A week before his scheduled execution in June of 2000, and citing uncertainties about his guilt, then-governor Parris Glendenning commuted Colvin-El's sentence to life in prison without parole.
Kevin Wiggins was convicted and put on death row for the 1988 murder of an elderly woman in her Baltimore County apartment. The Baltimore County public defenders assigned to represent him during his first trial were young and inexperienced, and neither had ever been the primary attorney on a capital case. Rather than introducing very convincing mitigating factors of neglect and abuse that he suffered as a child during the sentencing phase of Wiggins' trial, his attorneys made the case for his innocence. His attorneys also failed to enter in the fact that Wiggins is borderline mentally retarded.
After being affirmed by Maryland's Court of Appeals, Wiggins' conviction and sentence were overturned in a federal district court on a habeas petition claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. However, shortly afterwards the decision was reversed and the Fourth Circuit Court reinstated both the conviction and death sentence.
Finally, in November of 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear an appeal of Wiggins' sentencing hearing, but declined the appeal of his conviction. Appling a two-pronged test outlined in a 1984 decision, Strickland v. Washington, the Court sought to determine first whether or not Wiggins' counsel was deficient and second, if that deficiency prejudiced the outcome. In a 7-2 decision, the Court found that Wiggins' attorneys' failure to investigate and introduce mitigating factors was indeed due to carelessness as opposed to "reasoned strategic judgment," and that the presentation of such mitigating factors likely would have "led at least one juror to reject the death penalty." Thus, in June of 2003, Wiggins' death sentence was effectively overturned and he was resentenced to life in prison.