HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It's a bitter sweet gathering Wednesday afternoon for the family of Larry Ruffin, one 30 years in the making.
"It has been rough, been really rough," said Teresa Ruffin Strickland, sister of Larry Ruffin.
Ruffin was one of three people charged with the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gayle Patterson of Forrest County. Patterson was attacked in front of her two small children at their home on Sis Hobson Road. Even though her attacker slashed her throat she ran about a hundred yards to a neighbor's home where she went for help. Now, thanks to DNA evidence and a push from the innocence project Ruffin is set to be exonerated. However, he'll never see life outside of Parchman Penitentiary because that's where he died back in 2002 from cardiac arrest.
Ruffin says, "If he was alive today he would say I told them in 1980, that I did not do this crime."
Teresa Ruffin says her brother maintained his innocence until the day he died. Ruffin may not be able to walk away, but the two other men will. Bobby Ray Dixon and Phillip Bivens are set to be free men. Dixon was already released from prison a few weeks ago to undergo medical treatment for brain cancer. Bivens remains behinds bars, but not for much longer thanks to the DNA which is reported to show Andrew Harris as the real suspect. Harris is already in Parchman, serving a life sentence for another Forrest County Rape two years after Patterson's.
"I want to go see him and I want to look at him in the eyeball and I want to ask him, what was holding you from giving him his freedom," said Ruffin.
During the case, Teresa says her brother told her he was beaten and coerced into giving false statements, leading to his conviction.
"You can find some people out here go to prison and they'll stay five years and out and my brother stayed 23 years as an innocent man," said Ruffin.
While in prison Ruffin missed the marriages of his daughters, the births of his grandchildren and the funeral of one of them.
"So much of his life has been taken from him, till it's unreal," said Ruffin.
Even with that, Teresa says forgiveness, although tough, is necessary to move on and not just to those who carry out justice.
"We as a family do not hold any grudges against the Patterson family, because if it was my sister that was done like that, I would be looking for justice," said Ruffin.
Members of the Patterson family were unable to comment about the case, until after a court hearing set for Thursday morning in downtown Hattiesburg. That's where they're expected to make a statement. Teresa says the main concern now is clearing her brother's name.
"I'm just glad justice has finally came, as my brothers would say, little too late, but I say this to them and I've always told them, It's never too late, never too late to free somebody's name, and his name is free, he's free," said Ruffin.
Once the exoneration hearings are done with, there will be yet another gathering for the Ruffin family.
"We're going to get together and we're going to go to the cemetery and praise God, that's what we gone do," said Ruffin.