“An Innocent Man” Highlights Flaws in Justice System

To kill the mechanisms that nearly killed him—this is the life goal of Kirk Bloodsworth, a former marine who was wrongfully sentenced to die for the brutal rape and murder of a young girl in 1985. Bloodsworth was the first person exonerated from death row through DNA evidence, and he is coming to Seattle University on Nov. 10 for a special screening of “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man,” a documentary about his harrowing experience.

Senior criminal justice major Nicole Argamosa will volunteer at the event with the criminal justice club. She said that unfortunately, she does not find the injustices described in Bloodsworth’s story surprising.

“There are many innocents put on death row and many innocent lives taken that could have been saved if we had better ways of presenting and finding evidence,” Argamosa said.

The film details the problematic testimonies that led to Bloodsworth’s wrongful conviction, his nine-year battle to prove his innocence and the discoveries that helped win his freedom in 1993. While this is the first time the film will be shown at Seattle U, it will not be Bloodsworth’s first time on campus. He has come to Seattle U a number of times, such as to speak to the criminal justice theory class taught by Jacqueline Helfgott, chair of the criminal justice department.

Helfgott said his story is notable for a number of reasons.

“It highlights the role of science in criminal justice, it highlights the advances of the exoneration of innocent people in prison and in death row,” Helfgott said.

Associate professor in the criminal justice department, Matthew Hickman also discusses Bloodsworth’s story in his introduction to forensic science course. He said that Bloodsworth’s experience illustrates the highly problematic nature of witness testimonies. But he also said that DNA evidence is not infallible either.

“Criminal justice, when you start peeling away the layers and peeking in, it’s highly fragile,” Hickman said. “His story demonstrates how fragile it canbe.”

Since Bloodsworth’s exoneration in 1993, 333 people have been exonerated through DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, an organization that aims to exonerate those wrongfully convicted and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The high numbers of people exonerated, who on average serve 14 years in prison, reveal how easy it is for an innocent person to be convicted for crimes they did not commit.

“If it could happen to an honorably discharged marine with no record, no criminal history—it could happen to anybody in America,” Bloodsworth said. He said that it could even happen to a student in Seattle.

Since his exoneration, Bloodsworth has dedicated his life to changing the criminal justice system by working with the Innocence Project, lobbying politicians and working with other activist’s to rehabilitate the penal system, as he does not want anyone to experience the same injustices he experienced.

Through using “Bloodsworth,” a book about Bloodsworth’s story in her course, Helfgott has found that many students have changed perspectives about the criminal justice system and the death penalty.

“When they hear personal stories like that, it’s very difficult to walk away and still be in favor of the death penalty,” Helfgott said.

Helfgott said the goal of bringing Bloodsworth to Seattle U is not meant to persuade students to change their views about capital punishment, but rather cause them to think more critically on the whole.

Hickman also spoke to this point and said that regardless of a student’s opinion about the death penalty, he hopes that exposure to Bloodsworth’s story will be food for thought and allow students to consider all aspects when forming an opinion.

“The classroom is a safe environment to explore these ideas and think about them critically and formulate opinions,” Hickman said. “So it’s important to have these discussions.

Helfgott hopes that the film will remind criminal justice students that they cannot be careless in their future careers—whether they decide to work as forensic scientists, corrections officers or attorneys. Students must never lose sight of the power and responsibility they have to those in the criminal justice system.

But whether it is through voting on a piece of legislation, participating in a jury or making economic decisions, “everyday people are impacted and responsible for making decisions about criminal justice every day,” Helfgott said. It is not only those interested in criminal justice who can influence it.

Argamosa is excited to see the film and hear what progress Bloodsworth has made since being freed from prison and working with the Innocence Project. Bloodsworth said that screenings in other states have been well received.

The film will play in the Pigott Auditorium on Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. Students will have the opportunity to meet Bloodsworth in the Casey Atrium before the film screening at 4 – 6 p.m. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Bloodsworth.

Hickman said that programs such as the film screening are part of Seattle U’s overall goal to produce graduates who will fight all types of injustice.

The frailties in the criminal justice system, “Transcends disciplines,” Hickman said. “That’s our challenge to [students]…think critically about justice and get out there and try to fix it.”

Melissa may be reached at editor@su-spectator.com

Melissa is a senior journalism major. She uses the word “Scare-cited” when describing her feeling about being this year’s Editor in Chief. She likes alternating her hair color between purple, blue and "faded out," snuggling with fuzzy animals, and making boozy, baked treats.


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