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They confessed to rape and murder. They pleaded guilty and went to prison for decades; but they were innocent and DNA evidence proved it last week. On September 16, a judge in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, overturned the convictions of two of the three men serving time for the rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson, in 1979. The third man, Larry Ruffin, died in prison in 2002.
The Innocence Project organized DNA testing for the three men. In petitions filed for Bobby Dixon and Phillip Bivens, (and in a separate one filed for Ruffin on September 15) attorneys asked the court to throw out the convictions, according to CBS News. The tests showed that the DNA matched another man, Andrew Harris. Harris is now serving a life sentence in a Mississippi prison for a 1981 rape.
Dixon had been previously released from prison to obtain treatment for terminal cancer, but Bivens was freed by the judge's ruling and attended the hearing. Attorneys for the two men hope the result of this case will cause other courts to change the way they view confessions and guilty pleas. During their arrest and sentencing, Dixon and Bivens confessed and pleaded guilty, but claimed Ruffin was the actual rapist. Dixon later said in an interview, reports CBS, that he only blamed Ruffin after being beaten by police.
The Innocence Project was created in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York. The Project's aim is to work to exonerate people by use of post-conviction DNA. This involves testing of the DNA evidence from the crime scene against the accused's DNA.
According to CBS, Innocence Project New Orleans director, attorney Emily Maw, says she does not believe the petition for Ruffin will be reviewed until a grand jury has decided whether to charge Harris for the crimes. If exonerated, Ruffin will be the second man to be posthumously declared innocent due to DNA evidence.
According to the Innocence Project, of the 259 DNA exonerations since 1989, 63 have involved false confessions and 19 have involved false guilty pleas.