This spring, Hobart and William Smith Colleges will welcome two speakers from Witness to Innocence, a national organization that empowers exonerated death row survivors to advocate for the end of the death penalty in the United States.
Sabrina Butler and Kirk Bloodsworth will speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Vandervort Room on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 14 and 15, respectively.
Butler was a Mississippi teenager who was convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing after serving more than five years in prison and 33 months on death row. She is the only woman in the United States to be exonerated from death row.
Today, Butler still lives in the same town where she was convicted, with her husband Joe Porter and three children. She speaks as often as she can to the public and media about her heartbreaking and moving story, and has recently published a memoir, “The Sabrina Butler Story.”
An honorably discharged Marine, Bloodsworth is the first person in United States to be exonerated from death row by DNA testing. In 1984, he was arrested for the rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. He was sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Md., in 1985. After having his conviction reversed and being retried and convicted again, Bloodsworth heard of a new forensic breakthrough in 1992 called DNA fingerprinting. He lobbied successfully for prosecutors approval for its use on evidence collected at the scene of the crime. The tests incontrovertibly established his innocence, and in December 1994, Bloodsworth received a full pardon based on innocence.
In addition to his work for Witness to Innocence, Bloodsworth has been an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) since its passage by Congress in 2000. The IPA established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, a program that helps states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. He previously served as a program officer for the Justice Project in Washington, D.C., and is the subject of the book, “Bloodsworth: the True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA by Tim Junkin,” and of an upcoming documentary by Gregory Bayne, “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man.”
Through public speaking, testifying in state legislatures, media work, and active participation in the nation’s cultural life, Witness to Innocence members, like Butler and Bloodsworth, are working to end the death penalty by educating the public about innocence and wrongful convictions. Witness to Innocence also provides an essential network of peer support for the exonerated, most of whom received no compensation or access to reentry services when released from death row.
Witness to Innocence initially began its program operations in 2003 under the fiscal sponsorship of the Moratorium Campaign Education Fund, a project of Sister Helen Prejean, renowned anti-death penalty activist, author, and Nobel Prize nominee. The organization launched its first visible national organizing campaign in September 2005, when 25 exonerated death row survivors, family members, and allies came together near Atlanta, Georgia, for a three-day gathering of the exonerated community. Since the official launching in 2005, members have played an essential and unique role in the anti-death penalty movement by sharing their stories with millions of people around the country and around the world.
For more information, contact Assistant Professor of Sociology James Sutton at firstname.lastname@example.org or Assistant Professor of Sociology Kendra Freeman at email@example.com