ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - The family of a Hattiesburg-area man who died in prison after serving time for a brutal murder he did not commit gathered Saturday to celebrate his first birthday since he was officially cleared of all charges relating to that crime.
Family and friends of Larry Ruffin released balloons at his burial site near Ellisville and remembered his life, nearly 10 years after he died in prison and 9 months after he was formally exonerated of the 1979 rape and murder of Forrest County resident Eva Gail Patterson.
Ruffin and 2 other men, Phillip Bivens and Bobby Ray Dixon, were wrongfully convicted of that crime. The convictions of Bivens and Dixon were thrown out last year, after new DNA evidence showed they were innocent.
Ruffin was exonerated last February.
"It is a sad occasion, because we would love for him to be here to sing happy birthday to him and blow out the candles, but to be free in Christ you are free indeed...he knows that we're celebrating his birthday...he knows," said Teresa Strickland, sister of Larry Ruffin.
Bobby Ray Dixon died of cancer just a few weeks after he was released from prison.
Another man, Andrew Harris, has now been indicted for the Patterson murder. That idictment is based on the same DNA evidence that cleared Ruffin, Bivens and Dixon.
Harris is already serving a life sentence for a rape conviction in 1981.