Exonerated: September 16, 2010
Bobby Ray Dixon, Phillip Bivens and Larry Ruffin were wrongfully convicted in Forrest County, Mississippi in 1980 of the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson.
The only witness was her four-year-old son, Luke, who consistently described one man raping and killing his mother. The convictions of all three rested on confessions, given under threat of the death penalty, that were inconsistent with each other and, in places, factually inaccurate.
Mr. Bivens and Mr. Dixon pled guilty and testified at Mr. Ruffin’s trial in exchange for life sentences. Mr. Bivens recanted his testimony less than a month after the trial in a sworn affidavit sent to the court. Mr. Ruffins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died in prison on July 9, 2002.
With the consent of the Forrest County DA, IPNO and volunteer co-counsel Robert McDuff obtained DNA testing in 2010 on evidence from the crime scene. The DNA profile from the semen left in the victim by her killer was run through the FBI’s database of convicted offender profiles. It did not match any of the three men convicted, but did match another, unrelated man who was convicted of raping another woman in her home in the same county, two years later.
IPNO and Mr. McDuff asked for Mr. Dixon’s and Mr. Bivens’ convictions to be thrown out. In September 2010, almost exactly 30 years after their arrest, they were cleared and released before a packed courtroom. They were exonerated in December of 2010. The same court exonerated Mr. Ruffins in February 2011. He was the second person in the United States to be formally exonerated posthumously thanks to DNA testing.
Mr. Dixon suffered from seizures his entire life. Diagnosed with lung cancer and brain cancer while in prison, he passed away on November 7, 2010, nearly eight weeks after he was released from prison. Mr. Bivens passed away on August 25, 2014.
In 2017, the family of Larry Ruffin opened the Larry D. Ruffin memorial park in Jones County, Mississippi.