Posted: Nov 9, 2010 9:05 PM by Alison Haynes
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi man who spent more than 30 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit has died less than two months after his name was cleared in the case.
Bobby Ray Dixon died Sunday after suffering from lung and brain cancer. He was 53. His younger brother, Jerry Dixon, said he's glad his brother lived long enough to see DNA evidence clear the man in the 1979 rape and murder of a Hattiesburg woman.
"He knew his name was cleared before he left. He wanted to be baptized again, and I thank God he got to do that," Jerry Dixon said Tuesday. "He wanted to ride a bicycle and he got to do that. He had been locked up for 32 years."
On Sept. 16, Forrest County Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich set aside the guilty pleas of Bobby Ray Dixon and two other men in the slaying of Eva Gail Patterson, whose 4-year-old son had witnessed the deadly attack.
Helfrich had ruled on a petition filed by the Innocence Project New Orleans on behalf of Bobby Ray Dixon and Phillip Bivens, 59. Helfrich is expected to rule later on a posthumous petition for Larry Ruffin, who died in prison in 2002.
"I think there are times when the wheels of justice grind slowly in a lot of cases. The fact that they did so slowly in this case is particularly sad," said Emily Maw, director of Innocence Project New Orleans.
"All of his family are very grateful that he lived long enough to be free, and see the injustice that he suffered corrected," she said.
The Innocence Project New Orleans filed a motion earlier this year to have DNA evidence tested in the case. The semen from a rape kit on Patterson was run through an FBI database that matched it with Andrew Harris, a man already serving a life sentence for a rape that occurred in 1981.
Jerry Dixon said his brother didn't harbor resentment or anger about being wrongly imprisoned for more than three decades. Dixon had received a medical release from Parchman in August because of his cancer diagnosis.
"He said 'all is forgiven.' I feel like he did," Jerry Dixon said.
Funeral services for Bobby Ray Dixon will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at New Zion Baptist Church in Jones County, Jerry Dixon said.
Ruffin's petition will be heard after a grand jury makes a decision about the case against Harris, said Rob McDuff, a Jackson attorney who assisted the Innocence Project New Orleans.