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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has found coverage for a Mississippi county for insurance policies issued decades apart for bodily injury claims suffered by three people wrongfully convicted for rape and murder. The case is Travelers Indem. Co. v. Mitchell, No. 17-60291, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 15915 (5th Cir. May 29, 2019).

The initial tragedy occurred in 1979 when Eva Patterson, 25, was raped and murdered in her own home. Her two sons watched her die. Police targeted Larry Ruffin for the crime. Other inmates were threatened with false charges unless they implicated Ruffin in Patterson’s murder. After seven hours in a violent interrogation, Ruffin confessed to the crime. Sons of the victim stated that there was only one perpetrator, but as Ruffin’s trial approached, police arrested two other individuals, Bobby Ray Dixon, and Phillip Bivens. Dixon and Ruffin had previously been arrested together for theft. Dixon was mentally handicapped as he had been kicked in the head by a horse as a child. After a similar interrogation to the one Ruffin suffered, Dixon also confessed to the murder and implicated Ruffin and Bivens. Similarly, Bivens was threatened with violence and death and he, too, confessed. Bivens and Dixon pleaded guilty, and Ruffin was convicted at trial. All three got life sentences. In prison, they were assaulted by other prisoners on numerous occasions. Each developed physical issues including Ruffin, infected with syphilis and herpes, and Biven, infected with Hepatitis C. They all filed post-conviction appeals asserting their innocence, but each appeal was rejected. The three innocent men spent a collective 83 years in prison. By the time DNA evidence exonerated them, Ruffin had died in prison and Dixon and Biven’s illnesses killed them both not long after their release from prison.

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Hannah Smith


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