Larry Ruffin was wrongfully convicted in Forrest County, Mississippi in 1980 of rape and murder.
Tragically, the only witness to the murder was the victim’s 4-year-old son, Luke, who consistently described one man in his house who raped and killed his mother.
Mr. Ruffin was arrested weeks after the crime based on a bad tip. Although his alibi had initially checked out, the police came back to him after getting no other leads. He signed a confession after a night of interrogation by a series of investigators. He quickly withdrew his confession and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. As the time for his trial drew near in 1980, investigators went looking for evidence to bolster the case against him. They found two of his acquaintances; one was Phillip Bivens who lived in California at the time and another was Bobby Ray Dixon, a man who could not read or write and suffered seizures from organic brain damage. Both men were interrogated, threatened with the death penalty and persuaded to confess, plead guilty and testify against Larry Ruffin at his trial in exchange for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. All of the confessions were inconsistent with each other and factually inaccurate. Mr. Dixon recanted his testimony on the stand at Mr. Ruffin’s trial. Mr. Bivens recanted his statement less than a month after Mr. Ruffin’s conviction. Mr. Ruffin was convicted. At his capital trial, the jury deadlocked on the death sentence and so he was sentenced to life in prison.
Mr. Ruffin’s conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which apparently ignored the troubling fact that the victim’s son had only described one man in their house and yet three men had confessed and been
Larry Ruffin died in Parchman prison 23 years after he was arrested, in 2002.
With the consent of the Forrest County district attorney, IPNO and volunteer co-counsel, Rob McDuff, obtained DNA testing in 2010 on the evidence from the crime scene. The DNA profile from the semen left by her killer was run through the FBI's CODIS database. It did not match any of the three men convicted; it matched another, unrelated man who had been convicted of raping another woman in her home in the same county two years later.
Immediately, IPNO and Mr. McDuff asked for Mr. Bivens and Mr. Dixon’s convictions to be thrown out. In September 2010, almost exactly 30 years after their arrest, Forrest County Circuit Judge Bob Helfrich threw out the convictions of Mr. Bivens and Mr. Dixon before a packed courtroom in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The two men were released on their own recognizance.
Mr Ruffin was exonerated posthumously on February 10, 2011.
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