July 2 - July 8, 2015
DNA Evidence Brings Hope, Truth - But Only If Tested; Some
Maryland Jurisdictions Slow to Report Findings
By Deidre McPhillips
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS — Half of a cell can free a man sent to death row,
but sometimes, that cell remains untouched, untested, and — in one case —
forgotten in a closet for years.
Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Marine and waterman from Maryland’s
Eastern Shore, was on death row in 1984, convicted of the rape and murder of a
9-year-old girl. In 1993, after nine years in prison, Bloodsworth became the
first person in the United States to have been exonerated of all charges after
being sentenced to death.
Now, he walks free — because of DNA evidence and his own
extraordinary efforts to get it tested.
Maryland now mandates that its police departments test,
track and report DNA crime-scene evidence, but one year after a deadline, not
all jurisdictions have sent the state their results. Of the two largest
jurisdictions, one was more than a year late and the other still hadn’t
reported as of Tuesday afternoon.
Bloodsworth said it was fate that brought him “The
Blooding,” a book by Jason Wambaugh that details the account of the
first time DNA evidence was used in a criminal case in England, through the
prison’s library exchange program. It inspired him to write a
letter convincing the prosecutor to allow DNA evidence testing in his case.
The prosecutor told him that the evidence had been inadvertently
destroyed, he said, but Bloodsworth thought that just because no one had seen
it, did not mean it didn’t exist.
Bloodsworth said he kept pushing and the evidence was
eventually found in a cardboard box, sitting in the closet of Maryland Circuit
Court Judge James T. Smith, who had reduced Bloodsworth’s
sentence to life in prison after a second appeal back in 1987. Once found, it
was shipped off to California, home to one of two DNA labs in the country at
It took a year for the results to come back, Bloodsworth
said, a year of hopeful anticipation. And when the results came, he said, there
was finally truth in his case — his DNA was not a match.
DNA evidence testing has seen great advancements since the ‘90s.
The average turnaround time for analysis of crime scene DNA
evidence in Maryland was 110 days in 2011, according to a 2012 audit by the
state’s Office of Legislative Audits — much less than the year it took for
Bloodworth’s results to come back.
There were 3,239 cases with untested data in Maryland during
a 2011 spot-check of 135 local law enforcement agencies, according to the 2012
Data from a 2013 DNA evidence collection and analysis was
due in to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention for review by
April 2014, but 33 of the state’s 133 local law enforcement agencies did not submit their
data to the state before the deadline, despite a legal mandate to do so. (There
were two fewer Maryland law enforcement agencies in 2014 due to some agency
restructuring at the local level.)
The data from 31 of the non-reporting local law enforcement
agencies in 2014 would have a minor effect on overall state statistics, as
those agencies collected zero or very few DNA evidence samples, according to a
special report by the Office of Legislative Audits released in April.
But missing data from the other two — Baltimore City and
Prince George’s County — would “likely have a significant effect on
the overall data,” according to the special report.
In 2012, Baltimore City and Prince George’s
County Police Departments accounted for 80 percent of cases with untested DNA,
with 1,349 and 1,244 untested cases, respectively.
This noncompliance frustrates Bloodsworth, who has become an
advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty since his release.
“We need transparency and we need people to get their work
done in regard to the criminal justice system. Scientists, prosecutors, police
officers — they need to play by the rules,” he said. “I take
the criminal justice system seriously — I’ll put it that way — and so should
they. You can’t skirt around the truth.”
Any delay in testing DNA evidence — whether it be years sitting in a closet or
months waiting for police departments to get through their overwhelming load of
cases — is a threat to the justice
system, Bloodsworth said.
According to a July 2013 report by the United States
Government Accountability Office, about $442 million was given to state and
local governments by The Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice to
reduce the DNA evidence testing backlog from fiscal years 2008 through 2012.
Maryland is one of 14 states — including Virginia — that has
enacted statewide reforms to reduce the backlog in rape kit testing, according
to data collected by The Accountability Project, a group dedicated to ending
the backlog of rape kit DNA testing. Nine others — including Pennsylvania — have
proposed similar reforms.
Thomas J. Barnickel III, legislative auditor with the
Department of Legislative Services, said the backlog of DNA evidence samples
and the timeliness of the information analyzed is of historical concern for
lawmakers in Maryland.
“This is information the legislators wanted, and it’s in
law to collect,” he said.
A bill signed into law in 2008 requires all law enforcement
agencies and the Department of State Police to report to the Governor’s
Office of Crime Control and Prevention bi-annually on the collection and
analysis of DNA evidence from crime scenes. Data is to be reported on the
numbers and types of cases for which crime scene DNA evidence samples were
collected, the average turnaround time for analysis of the DNA evidence, and
the number of outstanding cases that have DNA evidence samples submitted but
not yet tested.
Maryland’s Attorney General Brian E. Frosh was a state senator in
2008 and voted in favor of the bill that added the reporting requirement.
“Any breakdown in the system means delays in trials and
delays in the resolution of cases — with serious consequences for those accused
of crimes, as well as the victims of crimes,” he said. “We must
look for ways for local law enforcement to have the resources they need to do their
This breakdown was a lapse in communication, said Chris
Shank, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and
Prevention, the organization tasked with collecting the data.
The local law enforcement agencies submit their reports on
crime scene DNA evidence collection through an online database, a process that
has been reworked over the years to resolve various reporting errors and
The DNA evidence data is due from the local law enforcement
agencies to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention by April 1 of
each even-numbered year by law. The Office of Legislative Audits then collects
the data from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which, for this
reporting cycle, happened in mid-October 2014. Shank took office in January
“There’s no conspiracy here. It’s all very simple. It was a lack of follow-up,
and we are in the process of remedying that now,” he said.
A spokesman for the Prince George’s
County Police Department said that the department did not receive a request for
the information until April 16, 2015 — more than one year later than the data
was due to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention and 10 days after
the report was released by the Office of Legislative Audits. The Baltimore City
Police Department could not be reached for comment.
The Baltimore City Police Department has recently
submitted their statistics to the Governor’s
Office of Crime Control and Prevention, and data from the Prince George’s
County Police Department is expected soon, said a spokeswoman for the Governor’s
Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
Once complete results are compiled, the information will be
posted to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention’s
website, Shank said Tuesday morning.
The 2015 legislative session of Maryland’s
General Assembly, which concluded this month, was riddled with bills related to
Some — including one bill that would require the appropriate
law enforcement agency to notify the victim of a crime or their representative
of updates to a DNA profile in the case if requested, and another that expands
the types of crimes that are eligible for postconviction DNA testing — were
passed by the General Assembly and were signed by Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday.
Another — a bill that
would require additional testing to confirm a DNA match with a database entry
before it is admissible in trial — did
For Gale Seaton, DNA evidence is about hope.
“It’s tangible, physical evidence when all else fails,” she
said. “It’s DNA — you can’t refute DNA.”
Seaton’s daughter, Stacey, was murdered in Bowie in Prince George’s
County in 2005. But it wasn’t until 2009 that the cigarette butt found next to Stacey’s head
was tested for DNA evidence.
Leaving DNA samples untested is a problem across the
country, said Russell Butler, executive director and litigator for the Maryland
Crime Victims Resource Center.
“Police are the ones investigating. Prosecutors are the
ones litigating. If no one is pushing, they’ll have other unsolved crimes and new
cases to focus on. But for victims and survivors, knowledge is power. They can
help their case get noticed,” he said.
Seaton said investigators promised her an answer by the time
of her daughter’s funeral, but instead didn’t recognize her name when she called.
When the police department called two months later to say there
was nothing else they could do, Seaton said, she took it upon herself to keep
the case moving.
A 2009 article in a local newspaper, The Bowie Blade, about
the unsolved case grabbed the police department’s attention, and they made an arrest
within two weeks, Seaton said.
McDonald Abraham III was sentenced to 15 years in prison and
five years of supervised probation in connection with the murder of Stacey
Seaton, but it was not his DNA on the cigarette butt found near the scene of
the crime. The DNA matched that of a man Abraham said he paid to kill Seaton.
That man was found not guilty.
But, for Seaton, knowing was enough. The DNA evidence test
results brought her a sense of peace, she said.
“My belief system was shattered after Stacey’s
death. I believed everything worked right, but I grew distrustful of the police
— it almost killed me,” she said. “Now I have to believe that everybody
gets justice in the end — whether it’s karma or God, I truly believe that
Bloodsworth has also been able to feel a sense of relief.
Ten years after DNA evidence proved he wasn’t
guilty and nearly 20 years after the crime was committed, Bloodsworth learned
that the true killer had been found. The DNA evidence that remained untouched
until Bloodsworth’s prompting — semen found on underwear at the scene of the
crime — matched that of Kimberly Shay
Ruffner, a known sexual criminal who had just been released from prison at the
time of the 1984 murder. Ruffner pleaded guilty in a 2004 trial.
Bloodsworth now lives in Pennsylvania, where he enjoys a
spending time with his girlfriend and silversmithing his own jewelry, a life
afforded to him by what he calls luck.
“I read the book that came to me in the mail and
had one of the best genetic scientists test my evidence. The only thing that
separated me from freedom was half of one cell,” he
said. “That half of one cell cleared me of everything.
That half of one cell caught the real killer."
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Hoyer Delivers Remarks at PG County 2015 Housing Fair
By PRESS Officer
Office of Steny Hoyer
LANDOVER, MD — Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) delivered
remarks on June 13, 2015 at the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and
Community Development 2015 Housing Fair, entitled, “Prince
George's County: A Great Place to Live.” The housing fair was open to
homeowners and those looking to purchase a home. Participants had an
opportunity to attend a panel discussion with housing experts and meet with
housing industry professionals such as mortgage lenders, realtors and housing
“There is nothing more fundamental to the American Dream
than homeownership,” said Congressman Steny Hoyer. “Here in
Prince George’s County, the state, federal, and local governments have
partnered to help make the goal of homeownership more attainable. This is an
exciting time for Prince George’s County, and the relocation of the state Department of
Housing and Community Development to New Carrollton in April is a sign of the
attention we’re getting as a county that’s growing and on the move.”
“Our housing recovery continues to move forward, but many
people are still finding themselves underwater or struggling to afford
payments,” continued Congressman Hoyer. “Prince
George’s County was hit hard by the housing downturn with more
than 50,000 homes going into foreclosure since 2007. We’re
doing much better today, but for those still facing difficulty, it does not
feel like a recovery yet. I’m working hard to attract the new FBI Headquarters here,
and I’ve made it a major priority to help show businesses the
merit of moving here and creating good jobs here. Every day, more and more
people are realizing that Prince George’s County isn’t just ‘a great
place to live,’ but a great place to invest as well. I look forward to
continuing to work with state officials and with my colleagues in the Maryland
Congressional Delegation to ensure that homeowners and homebuyers seeking to
put down roots here and stay in their communities have the tools necessary to
County’s first Net-Zero Energy Home was also open today
for attendees to view. The remodeled, century old home was designed to provide
superior energy savings, water efficiency and a healthy living environment. The
home is an example of how even the oldest homes in the county can be made more
energy efficient and achieve savings for homeowners.
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PG County Library Receives Grants for Early Literacy Events
Library Café events show parents how to prepare their
children to learn to read
By Press Officer
LAUREL, MD.—Prince George’s County Memorial Library System
received two $500 grants supporting its Library Cafés, events designed to
educate parents and caregivers about simple, everyday practices that promote
early literacy skills. Upcoming Library Cafés will reach 80 families in
high-need areas of Prince George’s County.
The grants came from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the
Early Years project. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, named
after the children’s book author, supports arts and literacy in public
schools and libraries and recognizes new children’s book authors. Similarly, Defending
the Early Years seeks to rally educators to take action on policies that affect
the education of young children.
“We’re delighted to receive funding from two generous
organizations that share our goal of developing early literacy skills in young
children,” said Kathleen Teaze, CEO of Prince George’s
County Memorial Library System. “Our Library Cafés work toward this goal,
preparing children to read in elementary school and laying the foundation for
success later in life.”
Prince George’s County librarians begin Library Café
events with brief presentations showing parents and caregivers how to integrate
talking, singing, reading, writing and drawing into everyday activities with
their children. Refreshments are provided. Afterward, families cycle through
five stations of simple, developmentally appropriate activities illustrating
these skills. Each family receives a bag of early literacy resources, educational
toys and a children’s book following the event.
“Our hope is that each family will see that daily reading,
nurturing interactions and playing are the most important activities that
parents can provide for their children during their early years to prepare them
for school and life,” said Rachel Zukowski, youth services coordinator for
Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. Zukowski organizes the
Library Café events with Pam Hamlin, family literacy specialist for the library
“Through the cafés, we hope that parents and caregivers
will strengthen their relationships with each other and see the library as a
part of their support system,” Zukowski said.
Prince George’s County Memorial Library System will
hold Library Café events this fall.
For more information, visit www.pgcmls.info.
County Memorial Library System provides materials and information for study and
personal enrichment, offering strategies for lifelong learning through access
to varied media and professional guidance. The library system consists of
branches in 19 communities including Accokeek, Baden, Beltsville, Bladensburg,
Bowie, Fairmount Heights, Glenarden, Greenbelt, Hillcrest Heights, Hyattsville,
Largo-Kettering, Laurel, Mount Rainier, New Carrollton, Oxon Hill, South Bowie,
Spauldings, Surratts-Clinton and Upper Marlboro. (www.pgcmls.info)
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County Council, Overrides County Executive Veto
Override Avoids a 15.6 Percent Increase in Property Taxes in
Fiscal Year 2016
By Press Officer
PG County Government
This evening the County Council voted to override the County
Executive’s budget veto, preventing a double-digit property tax
increase. Residents and businesses have said this double-digit tax increase is
unaffordable, and hurtful to our economic recovery.
The County Council, as the Legislative Branch of government,
has the legislative authority to override the County Executive’s veto
of this lawfully enacted budget. Tonight, we have exercised our authority to do
so, preserving the balance of new investment in education; affordability for
working families and small businesses; and fiscal accountability for existing
The County Executive, aided by the County Attorney, has
raised the possibility of litigation. This is an effort to force this Council
to impose a double-digit tax increase on working families. The stunning prospect of the County Executive
essentially suing this Council, and thus the nearly 900,000 residents we
represent, would be self-destructive, self-defeating and irresponsible,
especially given the major economic opportunities this County is pursuing.
The instability at the top of our government demonstrated by
such litigation could seriously imperil key opportunities for this County and
its residents, including securing the FBI headquarters and building a new
Regional Medical Center. The County
Executive and County Attorney’s interpretation of the law is wrong; would
unconstitutionally erode our system of checks and balances; and give the County
Executive the near unlimited power to raise taxes.
This Council will not allow that to happen. We are confident the budget we adopted
represents the best plan for measured investment with fiscal accountability to
move our County forward.
The members of this body take our responsibility
as stewards of the taxpayers’ money seriously, and we always seek to work
prudently in the best interests of the County and its residents.
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WSSC, Prince George’s County Public Schools Launch New
Fats, Oils and Grease Curriculum
Students Use Hands-On Approach to Learning About the Harmful
Effects Fats, Oils and Grease Have on Sewer Systems
By Press Officer
Laurel — WSSC and Prince George’s
County Public Schools (PGCPS) celebrated the launch of a countywide
curriculum-approved Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) lesson that teaches students
about the sewer system and the harmful effects FOG can have when poured into the
sewer pipes. County and WSSC officials gathered at Walker Mill Middle School on
Friday, June 5 as 24 students took part in their first FOG science lesson.
PGCPS sixth graders will be taking an up-close look at the
causes and consequences of FOG. The new lesson uses the five E’s model
for teaching — engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration and
evaluation. Through hands-on activities students explore the environmental
impact of FOG and how solutions can help keep the Chesapeake Bay and waterways
clean and sewer pipes free of FOG.
“This is an exciting opportunity that not only helps
promote STEM education at a young age but also encourages and empowers kids to
join the fight against FOG” said Wayne Ludwig, WSSC Fats, Oils and Grease Program
Unit Coordinator. “Showing kids how their family’s every
day cooking can create contaminants that can clog pipes and potentially result
in messy, stinky sewer backups and overflows can help reach adults and
encourage them to can the grease instead of pouring it down the drain.”
“The students’ parents sent emails saying how they
never knew they couldn’t pour grease down the drain,” said
Nadine Gaujean, sixth grade teacher at Walker Mill Middle School. “Their
kids told them how important it is to can the grease instead. They didn’t know
until they learned it from their kids.”
The new FOG lesson is aligned to meet Maryland state
standards and was approved by the PGCPS Board of Education in 2014. PGCPS
teachers began rolling out the new lesson in February. WSSC and PGCPS worked
side by side throughout development of the lesson curriculum, which included
technical expertise and training from WSSC’s FOG experts.
To learn more about WSSC’s FOG program visit our Can the
Grease page at wsscwater.com/canthegrease.
WSSC works with Prince George’s and Montgomery County schools throughout the
year. For schools interested in learning more about WSSC’s school-specific programs and other
opportunities visit our Education and Recreational Activities page or call the
Communications Office at 301-206-8100.
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