Two men who were serving life sentences were exonerated on September 16 from a Mississippi prison after 30 years. Phillip Bivens and Bobby Ray Dixon were accused of the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson. Larry Ruffin, a co-defendant who died in prison eight years ago, will be posthumously exonerated.

Ruffin was the first defendant to be arrested for the crime. Dixon and Bivens were later charged as co-conspirators, even though Patterson’s 4-year-old son, who witnessed the crime, testified that there had only been one man at the scene.

Bivens was threatened with the death penalty, and, fearing for his life, backed up Dixon’s account that they were all at the crime scene that evening, even though Bivens had never met Dixon before. Ruffin was convicted and faced the death penalty, but was given a life sentence because of a hung jury.

Lawyers from the Innocence Project, who accepted a request for help from Dixon, cited studies showing the ubiquity of false confessions and requested a DNA test of the evidence from Patterson’s rape kit. In July, test results finally came back, implicating a man who had been living near Patterson at the time of the crime and is now serving a life sentence for a prior rape.

Ruffin’s exoneration will be the first instance in Mississippi where DNA evidence has cleared an inmate posthumously.


C. Robertson, 30 Years Later, Freedom in Case With Tragedy for All Involved, New York Times, September 16, 2010; J. Mitchell, Convictions over­turned: Imprisoned men free at last, Clarion Ledger, September 172010.