Kirk Bloodsworth 

Kirk Bloodsworth spent eight years, ten months, and nineteen days in prison, two years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

“I remember people in the courtroom calling me a child killer. That hurt the most, you know? I’d never hurt a child. But they branded me this, and it stuck too for a long, long time. Even 10 years I got out people were still calling me a child killer. There are air vents in the prison, and I could hear the cat calls coming from the air vents. ‘Kirk... Kirk... We’re gonna get you Kirk. We’re gonna do to you what you did to that little girl.’ Every day, every day, for the longest kind of time. And that was my life. all the time. And it continued even in the courtroom, you know. So when the gavel came down on my life after a two week trial, the courtroom erupted in applause. ‘Give him the gas and kill his ass’ they said. Both trials, same thing. They partied until four o’clock in the morning to my execution. I was scared to death, I’m not going to lie to you. Thank God for DNA though. Yeah. DNA, man. Saved my life.”

While working in the prison library, Kirk read about a new breakthrough—DNA fingerprinting. In 1992, he lobbied successfully for its use on his case. The tests established Kirk’s innocence. He was released in June 1993 and fully pardoned in 1994. His was the first capital case to be exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence.

Since his exoneration, Kirk has devoted himself to abolishing the death penalty and addressing wrongful convictions. He is a leader in the movement for criminal justice reform, and the mutual support and camaraderie of his fellow exonerees is the beating heart for his work. He was a member of Witness to Innocence since its inception and served in several board and staff roles before his current role as Executive Director. After teaching himself the art of silversmithing, Kirk created signature “exoneree” and “death row exoneree” 28g sterling silver rings, which he has gifted to more than 200 exonerees to date. He currently serves on the board of the Innocence Network.

© 2024 Martin Schoeller
Death Row Exonerees

︎Moving Portraits
︎Short Documentaries

Through partnership with Witness to Innocence, Martin photographed, interviewed, and filmed death row exonerees, recording and sharing their stories of how they were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.* 

I have been living in the US for 25 years and, as a German national raised in the shadow of the Nazi regime, remain appalled by state-sponsored murder. In this series I partnered with Witness to Innocence, the organization founded by activist Sister Helen Prejan and death row exoneree, Ray Krone.  As they fight to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. and to shine a harsh light on the profound, damning flaws in the ways these laws are applied, 189 women and men that were sentenced to die have been exonerated.

I wanted to present viewers with a harrowing, interactive account of the stories of innocent people forced to endure government-sanctioned horror.  These women and men bear dignified witness to the unacceptable costs of a misguided system of laws in desperate need of revision and a prison system that focuses on retaliation and rehabilitation.
– Martin Schoeller

*individual texts courtesy of Witness to Innocence

2020, Death Row Exonerees, Fotografiska, New York, New York, USA
2020, Works, NRW Forum, Berlin, Germany

Selected Press
Sentenced to death, but innocent: These are stories of justice gone wrong, National Geographic, USA
Martin Schoeller: Moving Portraits, Witness to Innocence, USA
Martin Schoeller: Death Row Exonerees, Air Mail Arts Intel, USA
Death Row Exonerees, ArtForum, USA
Martin Schoeller/Death Row Exonerees, Flaunt Magazine, USA
Interview: Martin Schoeller at Fotografiska New York Re-Opening, Musée Magazine, USA
Death Row Exonerees: behind a powerful photo project on injustice, The Guardian, USA
Martin Schoeller: ‘I am trying to show a humanity I think we all share’, TimeOut Shanghai, China
Death Row Exonerees Exhibit Featured in the Guardian, Witness to Innocence, USA