New DNA evidence frees two men accused of murder, rape

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A judge has set aside the guilty pleas of two men in a decades-old rape and murder of a Hattiesburg woman after DNA evidence proved they didn't commit the crime.

Forrest County Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich ruled Thursday on a petition filed by the Innocence Project on behalf of Bobby Ray Dixon and Phillip Bivens.

Helfrich took no action on a petition for Larry Ruffin. He said he only received Ruffin's petition on Wednesday and wanted to review it.

DNA evidence proved Bobby Ray Dixon and Phillip Bivens had nothing to do with Eva Gayle Patterson's rape and murder in 1979.

The woman was attacked and murdered in front of her two small children at her home on Sis Hopson Road. Dixon and Bivens, along with Larry Ruffin, were sentenced to life in prison in 1980 for the murder. Ruffin died in prison in 2002 from a heart attack.

Project Innocence officials say the DNA collected from the victim matches another Forrest County man who was convicted of raping a woman two years after the Patterson murder.

Andrew Harris is currently in prison serving a life sentence.

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