Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated nearly three decades ago after serving almost nine years in prison in Maryland, including two on death row, was awarded a little more than $400,000 by the state Board of Public Works on Wednesday as part of a new system to compensate those who are wrongly convicted and imprisoned.
Bloodsworth, 60, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1985 and exonerated through DNA evidence nine years later, is the first to receive payment from the state under a new law, enacted in July, that allows an administrative law judge to decide whether an exoneree is eligible to receive compensation.
The legislation stipulates that payments should equal the state’s annual median income, averaged over five years, for each year someone was wrongly incarcerated. The measure also includes a provision that allows exonerees, like Bloodsworth, who received compensation on or before July 1, 2005, to ask for additional compensation from the state.
The legislation was one of several bills passed this year in which lawmakers examined the state’s criminal justice system with an eye toward overhauling it.
“Maryland is attempting to right the wrong that we committed,” said State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), who, along with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), is on the three-member Board of Public Works.
The new system for compensation requires the board to approve recommendations by an administrative law judge. Previously, the board would decide how much to pay an exoneree, when to pay and whether to pay them at all. Advocates said that process was unpredictable and created barriers to redress.
In 2019, five men who collectively spent 120 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit were awarded a total of $9 million by the state panel. The men submitted applications for compensation for nearly 20 months, but the board never took action because Hogan said the panel did not have a clear-enough process to decide the size and other details of such payments. After public pressure from advocates, the board approved the compensation in October 2019 and the legislature changed the process earlier this year. Hogan did not comment on Wednesday’s vote.
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Franchot said he hoped the payment would bring “some solace and vindication” to Bloodsworth.
Bloodsworth did not return calls seeking comment. But Neel Lalchandani, Bloodsworth’s attorney, said his client petitioned the court the day the law went into effect. He is one of five Maryland exonerees who are eligible for supplemental compensation, Lalchandani said.
Bloodsworth, who was the first death row inmate in the country to be exonerated based on DNA evidence, received $300,000 for his wrongful conviction from the Maryland Board of Public Works in 1994, the year after he was released from prison and pardoned by Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D).
Based on the new payment formula, Bloodsworth’s total compensation amount would be $721,237.40. The administrative judge decided to subtract the $300,000 Bloodsworth received 27 years ago, leaving him with $421,237.40 in supplemental compensation.
“It can’t erase his pain and suffering,” his attorney said. “But it will help him move forward with his life.”
Since his release, Bloodsworth has been a vocal advocate for the wrongly convicted, testifying before Congress and becoming the subject of a book and a documentary chronicling his ordeal. In 2013, he successfully lobbied lawmakers in Maryland, his home state, to abolish the death penalty.
Sen. Dolores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the compensation overhaul bill, told a legislative panel this year that the amount of money Bloodsworth initially received was insufficient.
“That is one of the reasons we tried to look broadly, and we might still have not looked broadly enough,” she said.
Based on the judge’s recommendations, Bloodsworth’s payments will be expedited. He will receive his first payment within 60 days of the order and his final installment in April.
Lalchandani said the judge also agreed to provide Bloodsworth, who has liver cancer, with additional benefits that are included in the legislation for recently released exonerees, including housing, education and medical coverage.
Lalchandani said he is working with the various state agencies to ensure that Bloodsworth receives all of the benefits the judge ordered.