Hattiesburg American

Man dies before name is cleared

American Staff Writer jbass@hattiesburgamerican.com

November 9, 2010

A Hattiesburg man on the road to exoneration from charges associated with a 1979 rape and murder died Sunday.

Bobby Ray Dixon, 53, died of lung cancer at around 4 a.m., said Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict. Services will be at New Zion Baptist Church in the Kelly Settlement community at 2 p.m. Saturday.

"Bobby Ray had been sick for a long time," said Emily Maw, an attorney for the Innocence Project New Orleans, a group seeking justice for innocents serving life sentences. "I think he took a turn for the worse earlier this year when he was in prison."

Dixon entered a plea arrangement in association with the May 4, 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson in the Eatonville community. Phillip Bivens also entered a similar arrangement surrounding the same crime, and both men testified against Larry Ruffin as he was tried for the Patterson incident. Ruffin was convicted, and all three men received life sentences.

But DNA testing earlier this year matched the genetic profile extracted from evidence in Patterson's rape kit with that of Andrew Harris, who is already serving a life sentence in state prison for a 1981 rape in the Hattiesburg area.

In a September hearing, Forrest County Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich set aside the guilty pleas of Bivens and Dixon.

Dixon was released from prison in August on leave granted to terminally ill inmates. Ruffin died in prison in 2002.

The cases of Bivens and Dixon were set to appear before a grand jury this month, who could either indict the men for the crime, or vote "no bill," officially dropping the murder charges on the men.

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