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Likely killer's identity is new shock for cleared man

Inmate who has been charged was fellow prisoner

Kirk Bloodsworth, left, is kissed by his wife after hearing another man was charged with slaying that sent him to death row.
Kirk Bloodsworth, left, is kissed by his wife after hearing another man was charged with slaying that sent him to death row.
Barbara Haddock Taylor, Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Nearly every week, Kirk Bloodsworth brought fellow inmate Kimberly Shay Ruffner his library books. And the two men regularly worked out together in the prison weight yard.

But now, prosecutors say the two had a connection never revealed while they were behind bars.

On Friday, Ruffner was charged with the murder of a 9-year-old girl — the very crime for which a wrongly convicted Bloodsworth served nine years.

"I'm flipping out," Bloodsworth said after prosecutors visited his Cambridge home to tell him the news about Ruffner, who once slept in a cell one floor down from Bloodsworth. "The answer was right below me, and I never knew it."

Bloodsworth, 43, was twice convicted of the girl's murder and was sentenced to die. But after struggling for years to prove his innocence, he was cleared in 1993, becoming the first American freed from prison because of DNA evidence.

Ruffner was in prison at the same time as Bloodsworth for attempted rape and attempted murder.

Bloodsworth said he and Ruffner "spotted" for each other when lifting weights, and Bloodsworth, the prison librarian, always stopped to talk with Ruffner when delivering books to his cell. He remembered Ruffner as a quiet man who kept to himself.

But Bloodsworth said Ruffner came to the prison just a month after Bloodsworth and knew about Bloodsworth's case, his attempts to win a new trial and his claims of innocence.

Bloodsworth was ultimately cleared with evidence gathered from a semen stain on the victim's panties.

"Thank God for DNA," said Sandra A. O'Connor, the prosecutor who asked police 18 months ago to enter the evidence into a state database to help investigators find the real killer.

On Friday, prosecutors charged Ruffner with murdering Dawn Venice Hamilton and said they will bring rape charges as well. Ruffner has been behind bars since 1984.

Ruffner, 45, does not yet have a lawyer on the murder charge, authorities said.

Prosecutors are certain this time they have the right man, said O'Connor, whose office wrongly convicted Bloodsworth twice.

When the little girl's body was discovered in the woods in Rosedale, Bloodsworth was 23, a newlywed just discharged from the Marines. An anonymous caller told police that Bloodsworth looked just like a police sketch of the man last seen with the girl.

Five eyewitnesses picked him out of a lineup.

"We did exactly what we should have done, given the evidence we had," O'Connor said of Bloodsworth's convictions. "A jury heard the evidence twice and twice convicted him. It was a strong case."

Bloodsworth remembers the day he was cleared and released from the Maryland state prison in Jessup. His fellow inmates, including Ruffner, were there when Bloodsworth got the news, he said.

Ruffner did not react, Bloodsworth recalled.

"I wonder what he's thinking now," said Bloodsworth, adding he now considers Ruffner a coward. "They got him. All his punishment's coming."