Sunday, November 10, 2019

Book Review: (OT) Maryland State Book Selection: Bloodsworth (murder, Baltimore)

Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA Evidence, by Tim Junkin (Workman Publishing, 2004, 294 pages, $16.95 paperback), the “One Maryland One Book” for 2018 and the Howard County Book Connection (Maryland) selection for 2019-20!

 In a Nutshell

(Yes, this is a spoiler but since the story was splashed across all the front pages almost-always and forever beginning in 1984 Baltimore, you probably already know the details and the ending.)

You fall in love quickly and marry her, move to Baltimore from the Eastern Shore, but she turns out to be a junkie. You still love her so you try - but it doesn’t work out so you leave for home, Cambridge, Maryland, and almost immediately, the police show up to arrest you for a rape and murder of a young girl in the sultry summer of 1984 Baltimore.

A horrible crime (watch the PBS episode here), the entire city pressures its detectives to wrap it up in a hurry – and so you are convicted, sentenced to be executed.

How can that be? You are innocent but the city wants to solve the case fast, and you’ll do.

But how can you prove your innocence against the sightings by two young boys and five adults – and was the investigation done according to Hoyle? How eyes lie. . . .

How to Survive Prison. . . .

Incarceration in Baltimore is no cake walk. Somehow, you survive and pass on helpful hints such as ‘never borrow,’ and you work out lifting weights in the gym so you appear indestructible.

But, alone, the tears come: ah, the injustice of it all.

An appeal, a second trial which you also lose.

An Innocent Man. . . .

You write letters daily for several years, telling and re-telling judges and politicians that you are innocent – signing them AIM, An Innocent Man. You finally find an attorney to review the case from scratch and eventually evidence from the scene is discovered that the FBI missed and now, in a long shot, undergoes DNA analysis.

Breathless months follow until, nine years after the 1984 murder, the DNA is found to be not a match for you. Voila! And suddenly you are a free man – free to speak out against the death penalty, free to work for the Innocence Project, free to fall in love and finally make something of yourself.

All thanks to the new forensic tool of DNA fingerprinting which also identified the actual perpetrator. Eventually. After 20 years!

Was it just all a bad dream?

Local Story Becomes National News

The reader will come across the names of Maryland governors that are familiar: judges and prosecutors and defenders, not so well known. Places names, maybe.

How to Read Bloodsworth

First, set aside plenty of time (294 pages) in big chunks or be prepared to take the book with you wherever you go (stash it in your purse or bookbag) to read when you have a minute waiting in line or longer at the dentist’s office.

Bloodsworth is riveting. It is a book you can’t wait to get back to, to find out what happened in your absence.

Secondly, know that you may get bogged down in the legal proceedings that are detailed and seemingly repetitive (but only seemingly).

And, never fear – the science behind DNA fingerprinting* will not bog you down. As a matter of fact, it may be too cursory.

On the other hand, Bloodsworth is immensely readable, not put-downable, and exciting even if you know the ending in advance, as we all do who have read the words on the front cover - even with the repetition of the investigation and two trials (you can probably skip some of that part)

Why Read Bloodsworth

Bloodsworth is a good book, well worth the time. Others agree with me - whether it is for the breathless plot or the magnetic writing style. As a matter of fact, Bloodsworth was selected for the Howard County Book Connection (2019-2020) as well as the “One Maryland One Book” selection for 2018. 

Oh, and by the way, the preface is written by Sir Alec Jeffries, long overdue for the Nobel Prize and cousin of a resident of our town!

Bloodsworth has also been made into a documentary!

*If you are interested in DNA fingerprinting, read the very readable
The Blooding: The True Story of the Narborough Village Murders by Joseph Wambaugh.

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