1. The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
February 8, 2004 Sunday Final Edition
THE WRONG MAN: A SPECIAL 2-PART REPORT
BYLINE: TIM MCGLONE THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT
SECTION: FRONT, Pg. A1
LENGTH: 3529 words
TODAY: A rape victim's chance encounter leads to an accusation and eventually
creates another victim.
He knew that she lived in apartment 16 on the first floor of a three-story building in
Norfolk's West Ghent. That she sometimes arrived home late at night.
Perhaps he circled the block, waiting for the lights to go out, or hid in the darkness of
the park across the street.
He wore a short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved shirt, possibly flannel, with khaki
pants and tennis shoes. A jacket, gloves and a stocking cap kept him warm and
concealed his identity. He tucked a large hunting knife in his clothes.
The woman arrived home just before midnight on that Saturday, Dec. 5, 1981. She
was a divorced mother of three, a 32-year-old surgical technician who worked during
the week for a plastic surgeon and earned extra money pulling shifts at DePaul
Her children were with their father that weekend. Her only companions were her two
cats. She put on a blue and white jersey, turned out the lights at 12:30 a.m. and was
asleep in minutes.
At 2 a.m., he was in her bed, shaking her.
He had the knife in one hand.
He put his other hand over her mouth.
"You scream, you are dead," he whispered.
"You scream, you are dead."
She tried to scream again.
2. "My partner is with your kids in the other room, and if you scream any more we will
kill them," he said.
She fell silent.
Suddenly, he got up and left the room. She thought about fleeing but was frozen with
fear. He returned in less than a minute.
"I just want to rape you," he told her.
He pulled back the covers and unzipped his pants. He climbed on top of her. She
noticed a strong odor of gasoline and stubble on his face.
He stopped abruptly and left the room again.
When he returned, he pretended to be someone else. "Are you ready?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm ready," she answered, and she heard his zipper again.
He had his jacket off and said, "I'm the crazy one." But she knew it was the same
He sexually attacked her repeatedly.
Then he began asking about money. She said she had some in her purse, but he said
he already found that.
He took her into the living room and told her to lie on the sofa. He told her not to look
at him as he raped her again.
Take a shower, he said. He followed a few steps behind, trying not to let her see him
in the bathroom light. She was careful not to wash away evidence that she knew
would be crucial.
He asked about money again as she stood there naked, with a towel around her
She took pennies from the dining room desk drawer and handed them to him. She
remembered rolling them with her son.
"Give these to your kids," he said, handing them back.
He began pacing the living room, peering out the window, saying to himself, "What's
taking so long?"
There were curtains on the windows, but she could catch his features from the soft
light of the street lamp: his scruffy face, his dark black skin.
He asked for the pennies again, said he needed the money for a cab.
He threatened to kill her or one of her children if she told the police or anyone what
happened. Or he might shoot her in the leg to cripple her.
"You can't hide," he told her. "I will find you. No one can protect you."
She promised not to tell.
3. Get back in bed, he ordered, and pretend nothing happened.
Her bed-stand clock said 2:45 a.m.
She waited about 45 minutes, fearful that he was still outside, before running around
the hallways ringing doorbells. A neighbor on the third floor took her inside. When
police arrived, she was wrapped in a blanket, trembling, her eyes red and swollen
After the hospital, police took her to the station and had her look through a loose-leaf
binder with roughly 500 pictures of black offenders. None resembled her attacker.
She told detectives he was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, that he had a dark complexion
and hair on the sides of his face. He was neither heavy nor thin. She was not sure if
he had a mustache or hair on his chin. She did not notice anything else unusual about
In the days that followed, she walked around afraid that she was being trailed,
terrified he would come back.
She looked at every black man she passed - hundreds of them. That's not him. That's
not him. That's not him, she thought.
The detectives brought her back to the station. This time, there were only four or five
photos. She pointed to one.
"It's a possibility," she told the detective. "He's got the same shaped body."
Five weeks went by without an arrest.
One day at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where the victim had an office, she
walked by an elevator. Several people had just gotten on.
A black man stood in front of the group.
They looked at each other. He smiled.
In the second or two it took for that door to close, the woman believed she had found
She made inquiries and learned that he worked in the maintenance department. A
couple of days later, she put in a phony repair order, hoping to lure him to her office.
The maintenance man showed up with his boss, but she couldn't see the name on his
badge. It didn't matter. The woman was certain that he was her attacker, and she felt
as though she was being raped all over again.
Two or three days later, after learning the man's name, she called Norfolk Detective
Lawrence E. Hockman.
/ Julius Earl Ruffin was then 28. He stood just over 6 feet tall, wore a light beard,
had two gold front teeth and a light complexion.
4. He was a maintenance worker at the medical center and hoped to become an
electrician. The center had promised to pay for his schooling. He had been hired that
August after toiling in peanut factories and hog plants in his native Suffolk.
His family and friends have called him Earl since he was a boy. One of eight children,
he was his mother's darling.
As a teenager in the early '70s, he tried to engage his teachers in debates about social
injustices, but he was rebuked. He learned a hard lesson after being caught shoplifting
at 14 and sent for a year to the Beaumont School for Boys.
At Suffolk High School, Ruffin kept his focus on basketball, becoming an all-district
player and gaining the attention of college scouts. But his grades were too low to
make good on the promise of a scholarship.
And then he found trouble again as a young man, when he was about to become a
father for the second time.
Short on cash, Ruffin swiped some baby clothes from a flea market. He paid a $50
fine after getting caught.
He was arrested again a week before the birth, when Portsmouth police found a
hammer, a flashlight and gloves in his car. They questioned him about a burglary,
which he denied, and charged him with possession of burglar's tools.
Ten days after his daughter's birth and desperate for money, he walked out of a store
with a television he had not paid for. He was arrested two days later.
While he idled away a year at St. Bride's Correctional Center in Chesapeake, he swore
to himself he would never return to prison. "I would rather die first," he thought.
Released in April 1979, Ruffin went back to Suffolk and the house on Third Avenue
that he shared with his brother Ray. He set his sights on becoming an electrician, but
he couldn't find the money to attend school or an apprenticeship that would hire him.
One of his girlfriends worked at what was then called the Eastern Virginia Medical
Authority in Norfolk. She told him to apply for a job there. If he was hired, the
authority would pay for his tuition to attend a trade school as long as he returned and
continued working in that trade.
He started his new job on Aug. 24, 1981. He could begin his apprenticeship in one
/ Two Norfolk detectives showed up at Ruffin's job on Jan. 20, 1982, and asked if he
would come down to the police station to talk about an assault. The detectives never
At the station, Ruffin quickly realized this was much more serious than an assault.
They asked to pluck hair from his head and comb through his pubic hair. They took
I didn't rape anyone, he told them.
5. Detective Hockman, the lead investigator, took Ruffin's statement. Ruffin said he was
with his girlfriend that night. He remembered because it was a Saturday, and he spent
every weekend with her. On that particular day, they had gone Christmas shopping
and thought about attending a fashion show his sister was starring in.
"He vehemently denies that he committed these offenses and further stated that he
has always enjoyed an abundance of willing female friends to engage in sexual
relations with," Hockman wrote.
As Hockman grilled Ruffin, the victim peered through a window and said, Yes, that's
The detectives booked Ruffin for rape, sodomy and burglary, took his fingerprints and
put him behind bars. That night, his girlfriend, Rosemary Skeeter, went to the police
station to tell detectives that she was with Ruffin at his house on Dec. 5. She, too,
remembered the day because of the fashion show and a horror movie t hey watched
on television that night. Skeeter waited in the lobby but no one would talk to her, nor
did any detective seek her out afterward.
The detectives didn't talk to Ruffin's brother or his girlfriend, either. They would have
told police that they had watched the movie with Ruffin and Skeeter.
In his first court appearances, Ruffin continued denying committing the crimes, but
based on the victim's identification, a judge sent the case to a grand jury and set
bond at $30,000. His family, instead of scrambling to raise the bond money, put their
financial resources toward a prominent defense attorney, Edward H. McNew Jr.
On March 3, 1982, a grand jury indicted Ruffin on three counts of sodomy, one count
of rape and one count of burglary. His trial was set for May 3.
McNew had years of experience trying criminal cases. He knew going in that the
victim's identification of his client would be the crux of the case.
/ That May, the attorneys agreed on 12 jurors, nine white and three black, from a
pool of 26 to hear the case against Earl Ruffin in Norfolk Circuit Court.
The victim was prosecutor Robert C. Slaughter III's first witness. She recalled her
night of terror in great detail. When she was through, she said she was "100 percent
certain" that Ruffin was the man who broke into her apartment that night.
Slaughter continued with hospital personnel, detectives and a forensic scientist, who
testified that Ruffin's blood type was B-secretor, a combination that matched the
rapist's blood type and that of roughly 8 percent of the male population. It would be
more than a decade before the precision of DNA testing became commonplace in
In Ruffin's defense, Skeeter, his brother Ray and Ray's girlfriend testified that they
were all together that night. A neighbor testified that she arrived home very late from
work, around 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 6, and saw Earl Ruffin's car parked in its usual spot
outside the house.
Ruffin, too, testified. He believed that justice would prevail if he simply got on the
stand and told the truth.
6. After a day and a half of testimony, the jury began deliberating. The initial vote was
Those voting to acquit were not convinced that the victim had gotten a good look at
One juror turned out the lights in the room, went into the bathroom, had another man
stand by the door, and flicked the light switch on and off. He had the others try it.
See, he said, that proves she would have had no problem seeing her attacker.
That brought around three more jurors. Now it was 9-3.
But it was nine white jurors vs. three black jurors.
One black juror said there was no way she would ever vote to convict Ruffin. The two
black men agreed.
With the jurors hopelessly deadlocked, Judge Morris B. Gutterman declared a mistrial.
He set a July date for a second trial, which proceeded much like the first. The same
judge heard the case, in the same courtroom, with the same witnesses.
Again, jurors could not reach a decision. Again, the vote was split racially.
Gutterman declared another mistrial and set a new trial date. Ruffin couldn't believe
it. Wasn't there enough doubt now? Shouldn't he go free?
McNew tried to have the case dismissed, arguing that two mistrials certainly meant
that enough jurors found problems with the victim's identification of Ruffin. The judge
denied the move.
/ Ruffin had a sense that the third trial would be different. He felt uneasy as the
guards walked him into the courthouse on Sept. 30.
When the guards got him to the second floor, Ruffin tried to turn left toward Judge
Gutterman's courtroom. "No," one guard said. "You're going the other way."
Gutterman was unavailable, so Judge Thomas R. McNamara would be hearing the
During jury selection, prosecutor Slaughter used his peremptory strikes to remove the
four black members of the jury pool. Ruffin's attorney did not object. McNew did not
believe Slaughter had removed them for discriminatory reasons.
At the end of jury selection, as 12 white jurors took their seats, Ruffin's head dropped
and he thought, "they're trying to railroad me."
Just as in the first two trials, the victim took the stand first. Again, she provided the
jury with a gripping account of the attack.
"I was certain he was going to kill me," she stoically told the jury.
How was the lighting? Slaughter asked.
7. "There are street lights outside and there are big windows and you can walk around in
there without turning the lights on at night and see," she told the jury. "It's fairly well
Could you get a good look at his face? Slaughter asked.
"Yes, I could," she replied.
She described his dark complexion and the hair on the sides of his face. But now she
said he was about a foot taller than her 4-feet-11-inch frame, not the 5-8 she had
initially told police. She couldn't recall if he had a mustache or hair on his chin and she
didn't notice any gold teeth.
What makes you certain this is the right man? Slaughter asked.
"Everything about him. When I look at him I know that's him and when I hear him
speak I know that is his voice," she testified. "He talked a lot. He was there a long
time. He walked around. I was able to see his face and to see him completely, and
when I saw him again I knew it was him."
Slaughter made Ruffin stand, just to make sure. McNew objected, but the judge
allowed it. Ruffin stood 6 feet 1 inch tall, rail thin with a beard and a mustache and a
"Tell us now whether you can say with 100 percent certainty that is the man who
raped you?" Slaughter asked the victim.
"That is him," she replied.
McNew challenged her.
"There were no lights on in your bedroom?" McNew asked.
"There were no lights on in the living room?"
"There were no lights on in the dining room?"
She couldn't even be sure which side of the street the street lamps were on.
And there are curtains and trees blocking the windows? he asked.
"Yes, there are."
"You were not looking at the individual's face during those sex acts, is that correct?"
"I was not."
8. And he would say don't look at me? McNew asked.
The woman nodded.
And he had a hat on the entire time? And gloves? McNew asked.
Yes, she answered.
She said she couldn't remember telling police that the man was dark-skinned, but she
did remember choosing a picture that was not Ruffin's from a mug shot book.
When Slaughter questioned the victim again, he asked her to describe what Ruffin
was wearing the day he came to her office for the phony repair order. It was a long-
sleeved shirt with a short-sleeved shirt over it, khaki pants and tennis shoes, she said.
Slaughter's questions for Detective Hockman focused on the collection of evidence.
McNew tried to seize on contradictions and holes in the case.
The victim said he was 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 150 pounds, correct? McNew
What about complexion?
McNew showed him the photograph the victim had picked from the mug shots book.
"This is not a picture of Mr. Ruffin, is it?" he asked.
"No, sir, it is not," Hockman answered.
Just as in the other trials, forensic scientist Mary Jane Burton testified that Ruffin's
blood type matched the semen found at the crime scene. McNew later asked Burton if
she knew how many millions of men 8 percent of the male population would
encompass. She did not.
Slaughter rested his case after Burton's testimony. McNew asked the judge to dismiss
the case for lack of evidence. McNamara refused.
So McNew began presenting Ruffin's defense, again bringing to the stand alibi
witnesses, who described the quiet night they spent at home and testified to what
Ruffin looked like that December, to contradict the victim's description.
None of the jurors believed them.
They didn't believe Ruffin, either. They found his testimony unemotional and
unconvincing, despite the alibis and clear differences in height and complexion
between the victim's description and the man who sat before them.
After Ruffin's testimony, the defense rested.
Slaughter called Hockman to talk about the statement he took from Ruffin the day of
9. Hockman explained that during that interview, Ruffin told him he was with his
girlfriend at her house, not his, and that Hockman had forgotten to write that in his
"I don't know whether it was a slip of the mind at the time I did it or not, but when I
reviewed the whole case, I came back and, you know, added to my notes exactly
where he was with Rosemary," the detective said.
Ruffin couldn't believe what he was hearing. A bold-face lie from an officer of the law.
McNew had Hockman acknowledge that there were two documents. The first
contained what had actually been written that Jan. 20, 1982. The second contained
three extra words - at her house - scribbled in three months later.
McNew went on to challenge Hockman's work on the case.
The detective admitted that he investigated at least 10 additional sexual assaults
between January and April and had never thought to compare the victim statements
or suspects in those crimes with the Dec. 6 rape in West Ghent.
Slaughter now had to perform damage control.
"To what extent do you have a personal interest in this case?" he asked when his turn
"I have no personal interest," Hockman said. "I'm not going to send an innocent man
to jail or anything. If I was going to lie, I would have done a better job than just
adding three words" to the statement.
The last witness in the case was Ira Swartz, Ruffin's boss at the medical center.
Ruffin had already testified that he had not worn a short-sleeved shirt over a long-
sleeved shirt to work and that he grew a full, but neatly trimmed, beard after he was
hired by the medical center.
Slaughter asked Swartz what Ruffin would wear to work during that time.
"A long-sleeved shirt with a pullover shirt over top," Swartz said.
Swartz said that Ruffin had either had a light beard or had been clean shaven during
Ruffin was stunned. What was going on here? he thought.
McNew had his turn.
He tried to ask Swartz about a telephone conversation the two had on March 6, 1982,
when Swartz had told the attorney he couldn't recall details about Ruffin's clothing or
Slaughter objected. The judge asked the jury to leave, and the attorneys argued their
10. McNamara ruled that McNew couldn't question Swartz about their conversation.
Again, McNew asked for a mistrial. The judge said no.
The jurors were sent to deliberate at 3:53 p.m.
They returned in seven minutes.
On the charge of statutory burglary, how do you find the defendant?
The punishment: life in prison on each count.
In the audience, Ruffin's family and friends gasped and cried as the verdict was read.
Ruffin dropped his head, shaking it in disbelief.
The judge gave him a chance to speak.
"I would like to inform the court that I am innocent," he said. "I did not commit those
crimes that I have been charged with and I would appreciate it if you would take it
into your consideration to overrule that decision."
The judge gave no ground.
"It's the judgment of the court upon the verdicts of the jury that the court finds you
guilty as charged."
The guards walked over and snapped the handcuffs around Ruffin's wrists.
/ Reach Tim McGlone at 446-2343 or at tim.mcglone pilotonline.com
11. The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
February 9, 2004 Monday Final Edition
FREE, FINALLY. PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF WITH PROOF
OF INNOCENCE,/ BUT JUSTICE FALLS SHORT
BYLINE: TIM MCGLONE THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT/
SECTION: FRONT, Pg. A1
LENGTH: 3285 words
When he stepped out of prison last winter, a free man for the first time in 21 years,
Julius Earl Ruffin had no coat. His shoes were too small and, having no belt, he held
up his prison-issued khakis with his hands.
Where Virginia's legal system had failed Ruffin, science saved him. A test of DNA
material cleared him of a 1981 rape in which the victim had pointed to Ruffin in a
Norfolk courtroom and said she was certain he had attacked her.
"I'd like to thank God for this day," he said that February morning outside the
Southampton Correctional Center. "I just can't explain how happy I am."
On that chilly day, Ruffin walked into the warm and waiting arms of his son, sister and
brother. A 9-year-old boy when Ruffin entered prison, Karl Frazier now stood taller
than his old man.
"I'm mad. I'm happy. I'm disappointed. Everything rolled into one," Frazier said. "He
missed out on a lot of good times."
The family offered a few sound bites for the television cameras before hurrying into a
minivan and pulling away. They shared tears in that van and still more at the grave of
Ruffin's mother, their first stop before heading home to Suffolk.
Dorothy Cherry Ruffin's death in 1994 had been her son's lowest point in prison. He
once said he and his mother shared a "beautiful relationship." Others in the family say
he was the favorite of her eight children.
About once a month, she had made the long car ride to whatever facility her son was
in. She worried constantly: Was he warm enough? Did he have enough to eat? Would
he be raped? Beaten? Killed?
"She worried herself sick," Ruffin's sister Diane said recently.
The Department of Corrections allowed Ruffin to attend the service - in handcuffs and
accompanied by two prison guards.
12. The church, down the street from the family's home in Suffolk, was packed that Nov.
30. Well-wishers seemed as eager to greet Ruffin as they were to pay their last
Ruffin had to rush through the crowd to get one last glimpse of his mother before the
casket was closed. As he kissed her and said a prayer, he began weeping.
He was grateful to attend, but the taste of freedom was bitter.
By the time his mother died, family visits had become less frequent. Brothers and
sisters had moved away. As years passed, Ruffin became suicidal.
His sister Leola remembers his letters.
"His depression just screamed to me off the pages," she recalled. "I prayed that he
would hold on."
The family also was worn down by years of having to defend Ruffin's honor, by friends
and neighbors looking at them differently, and by the shame and humiliation they felt
even though they knew he was innocent.
His brother Ray found it difficult to visit.
"Time after time, it got harder and harder to find words of encouragement for him,"
Ruffin's daughter, Crystal Collins, had stopped visiting around 1990.
Her father's wrongful imprisonment affected Crystal's life probably more than anyone
than her grandmother. She recalled being 8 or 9 and having schoolmates taunt her
because her daddy was in prison for rape.
Her mother, Carmental "C.C." Collins Reid, remembers her daughter running home
from the school bus in tears.
"I told her they're going to find out he's not guilty," Reid said from her home in
Suffolk. "I told her he didn't do it."
Crystal has had a stepfather since she was around 6, but she struggled to accept him.
"That's the only daddy you know," Reid would tell her daughter.
"That's not my dad," Crystal would say. "My daddy's in jail."
Christmas was the worst for her. And birthdays. And her high school graduation,
looking out at all the fathers there.
"I'm still angry, just to think about him not being there," she said.
Crystal is convinced that had her father been around, she never would have become
pregnant at 14.
She resumed her prison visits when she was 17. It was difficult to get close to him,
despite being in the same room and hugs hello and goodbye.
13. "He could talk to me and tell me things, but that's not the same as being with
someone," Crystal said.
When they began exchanging letters and cards and photos, the relationship
"My baby girl," one Christmas card starts. "Will I ever get the chance to see you
before the year is out? Hopefully I will, but in the meantime give my love to the kids.
Love ya. Love, Your Dad, Earl."
When Earl Ruffin entered the state prison system in 1983, he became prisoner
132087. Convicted of rape, burglary and three counts of sodomy, Ruffin was staring
at five life terms.
At 29, time simply stopped.
He entered prison just as his career seemed to be taking off. He was incarcerated with
murderers, drug dealers, actual rapists and, he recalled, "many, many people who
For the next 20 years, he would tell fellow inmates that he really was innocent. The
rapist was probably still out there, he would say.
But in prison, most claim innocence, and Ruffin's pledge joined the chorus.
The Department of Corrections assigned him to the Virginia State Penitentiary, a dank
fortress in downtown Richmond that, at the time, housed the electric chair.
Ruffin had served time before. He spent a year in a minimum-security prison in the
late 1970s for stealing a television, and, as a teenager, he had served a year in a
juvenile home for shoplifting. But those first few days at the state pen were more
frightening than any he had spent behind bars.
Outside a prison window, Ruffin could see a billboard spray-painted in red with the
words "Fry the Briley Brothers," a reference to Linwood and James Briley,
masterminds behind the notorious 1983 escape from Mecklenburg's death row.
Much like he did on the streets of Suffolk as a kid, Ruffin found his salvation on the
basketball court. Another inmate from Suffolk introduced him to the prison team's
He approached, but was rebuffed at first. The coach didn't need new players. It took a
few weeks, but Ruffin convinced the coach to let him join the practice squad. The
coach quickly saw talent in the shooting guard.
Back on the court, Ruffin recalled, "I shined like new money."
He joined the prison all-star team, which traveled to other prisons to compete. He
stayed out of trouble by keeping busy.
When he wasn't on the court, he built chairs, beds and desks in the carpentry center.
He thought of the judges who would be sitting in his chairs and the college students
sleeping in the beds he built.
He spent the rest of his free time in the prison law library, preparing his appeals.
14. Without any formal legal assistance, Ruffin appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme
Court. His briefs were clear and well-written. But he lost at every turn.
Of particular aggravation was the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in late
1986 denying his claim for a new trial based on the prosecution's removal of all the
potential black jurors. Earlier that year, the U.S. Supreme Court had declared that
defendants did not have to prove that prosecutors intentionally targeted minorities for
removal from a jury. The simple fact that the prosecution removed all minorities from
a jury pool was enough to award a new trial.
But the Supreme Court ruled that its decision would not be retroactive.
As he entered his fifth year in prison, in 1987, Ruffin had exhausted his appeals.
He began writing to politicians, religious figures and authors in search of help. He
received few responses, none encouraging.
He first became eligible for parole in 1994.
"As time went on, parole was coming up and we thought he'd get out on parole," said
his brother Percy.
First in 1994, then again in 1995, 1998 and 2001, the board turned him down. Ruffin
found himself caught in a Catch-22. The board would consider parole only if he
accepted responsibility for the crime.
Ruffin would have to win his freedom another way.
He had heard about a new scientific identification test using DNA, the biological
structure of a cell that holds each individual's genetic code. No two people have the
same DNA, except for identical twins.
In 1989, David Vasquez, a Virginia inmate, became the first person in the country
exonerated using the technology. He had served four years for an Arlington County
rape and murder. The actual perpetrator, a serial killer, was executed in 1994.
That year, Ruffin wrote to the Innocence Project, then a fledgling nonprofit legal clinic
based in New York that spearheaded the drive for DNA testing throughout the
country. The project began writing letters to Norfolk Circuit Court and the state
forensics lab seeking biological evidence. The court acknowledged that all the
evidence it had in the case had been destroyed in 1986.
Between 1996 and May 2002, Ruffin received letter after letter from the state Division
of Forensic Science in Richmond and its Norfolk lab stating that they were unable to
comply with the request.
Ruffin always thought that was an odd response. They weren't saying the evidence
didn't exist. It would turn out that no one ever checked thoroughly.
In June 2002, Ruffin, without legal help, filed a motion in Norfolk Circuit Court seeking
DNA testing. It was a long shot, he knew, but he had nothing to lose.
A judge assigned Norfolk attorney Gordon Zedd to the case. Commonwealth's
Attorney John R. Doyle III directed an assistant to contact the state lab to see if any
15. This time, Ruffin caught a break. The state forensics scientist who had testified for the
prosecution at his trials had compulsively saved bits of DNA in hundreds, if not
thousands, of cases in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mary Jane Burton had since died, but she was lauded after the rape evidence was
discovered in July in the lab's archives, a place the state had not checked in the seven
years Ruffin requested the evidence. It would take seven more months to clear
When Zedd called his client with the results, he heard on the other end of the line,
"Hallelujah" and "Thank God."
One of the first calls Ruffin made was to his daughter.
"My daddy's free," she shouted. "My daddy's free."
Three days later, Ruffin and his son were slapping hi-fives at a 50 Cent concert.
Earl Ruffin is 50 now.
His short-cropped hair and slight beard show traces of gray, but he has retained the
same slim, muscular build of his youth.
It has been nearly a year since he gained his freedom and a pardon from the
governor. At malls and restaurants, strangers walk up to him to shake his hand and
say, "God bless" or "good luck." He spends most of his time catching up with family
and old friends and marveling at the technological advances made in 21 years.
Like automatic flush toilets. "I liked it so much I tried it again."
And the Internet. And satellite television. And CDs, DVDs and cell phones.
The price of a pay phone call threw him, too. "It used to be 10 c ents."
In those first few days, he ate a chicken fillet sandwich for the first time in his life and
had his first shrimp and his first bowl of Cheerios in more than two decades.
He noticed that there seemed to be many more people everywhere, especially driving.
He noticed that the Woolworth's in downtown Suffolk was gone. The old neighborhood
playground was now an apartment building.
But it is the missed family events that hurt him - the births of his seven grandchildren
and the family reunions held faithfully every year.
"The list is endless," said his sister Diane.
He has spent a year trying to catch up.
All his grandchildren gathered for Father's Day at a Virginia Beach seafood restaurant.
There was a trip to Walt Disney World, ice skating in Newport News, his surprise 50th
birthday party and a sister's wedding.
In a small park in upstate New York on July 12, the family reunion was one of the
most joyous of all. For the first time in 22 years, the Ruffins and the Cherrys - his
16. mother's side - did not have to say a prayer for the one family member unable to
It looked like a typical family reunion. Platters of barbecue and fried chicken. Cakes
and pies. Water balloon games and paddle-boat rides.
Ray Ruffin, one of the three people who could account for his brother's whereabouts
the night of the rape, said he felt conflicted.
"The first thing I feel is joy," he said. "I'm so glad it's over with.
"I also feel angry for what the system has done, because of the void in his life.
Twenty-one years of being locked up in that crazy place for something that you didn't
do? There's no getting that back. You can't even put a price tag on that. That's gone."
Throughout the day, cousins, uncles and aunts offered hugs and kisses.
"I don't know who all these people are," Earl Ruffin said. "Some of them weren't even
Ruffin has been toasted all about town since his return. At an NAACP party just before
Christmas, more than 100 people - old friends, coaches, politicians, strangers -
showed up to the Birdsong Recreation Center in Suffolk. They called it the Justice
His son, Karl Frazier, felt blessed.
"Like everybody else, I've waited a long time for this day," he said. "Although his
career goals have been shattered, I believe God has another plan for him."
His old coaches, teammates and even one opposing player stood at the podium and
recounted the days when Ruffin ruled the basketball court they were seated on.
Ruffin spoke last. He is eloquent before a crowd, soft-spoken and funny.
"I'm thankful because God is good," he said. "It's lovely to be here.
"I really do appreciate this. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. I love
If he has made plans for his future, he has not made them public, but there have
been hints. Maybe working with a community youth sports program, he said.
His girlfriend, whom he met on a blind date, sports a diamond ring on her left hand,
but they won't discuss it, even with family. They live together in Portsmouth with their
dog, Osakee, an Akita with black eyes that stands, on its hind legs, as tall as Ruffin.
Of his time in prison, he has shared few details about the worst moments. He still
prefers sandals over shoes, because prison-issue boots caused painful bunions on
He has not sought employment. He said he's scared that the police will come and take
him away again.
17. He has done volunteer jobs with senior citizens. He has been helped financially by
family, friends and strangers.
He sometimes falls into bouts of depression, but he won't talk about it. One recent
day, for no reason really, he was reading his appeal papers.
He holds tight to his anger at the all-white jury that found him guilty and the police,
prosecutor and judge who let it happen.
The chief detective on the case, Lawrence Hockman, called one day in March to
congratulate him on his freedom.
"He should have apologized," Ruffin said afterward.
The prosecutor, Robert C. Slaughter III, called, too. He did not apologize, either.
Though both have declined interviews with The Virginian-Pilot, others who worked on
the case say that this shows Virginia's criminal justice system works, though
"It's difficult to assign fault," said Doyle, the current commonwealth's attorney who
was not involved in the case originally.
Richard Arnt, the foreman of Ruffin's 1982 jury, said he remembers the trial vividly
because of the victim's testimony. He recalled voting to convict because "the evidence
He said jurors thought that Ruffin's brother and their girlfriends had made up an alibi
only after they visited him in jail.
"There was not a doubt in our minds," he said. "I didn't see any reason to go over this
thing step by step."
Arnt heard about Ruffin's freedom, but he said that if he was presented with the same
evidence he would vote to convict again.
Another juror wrote anonymously to Ruffin after reading about his release from
"I found you guilty on the sole testimony of the victim," the juror said. "She was 100
"I have lived with this and now am agonizing over what I did. I cannot give you what
was taken away from you, the years of family, friends, just building a life for yourself.
I only hope someday you can forgive us."
And the victim? She has expressed remorse.
"I thank God for the gift of DNA testing," she wrote to Ruffin in a May 1 letter.
"I do not know how to express my sorrow and devastation. I am so sorry. I feel so
personally responsible. If I had not believed it I would not have testified. Most of all I
hurt your family," she wrote, signing off with a prayer.
18. Ruffin said he could picture her sitting down to write that letter and how hard it must
"I felt like it was sincere," he said shortly after reading the letter for the first time.
"In a way I do feel some sense of relief because she finally came out and apologized."
The victim has vowed to assist Ruffin any way she can.
Last week, the two met for the first time, and she shed her anonymity when she
testified before state lawmakers. Ann Meng asked legislators to support a bill that
would pay Ruffin $3 million over 20 or 30 years.
Meng already had written to the governor.
In the letter, she acknowledged that the all-white jury "may have identified more
strongly with me than they did with Mr. Ruffin and his witnesses." Still, she said, she
bears a personal responsibility for what happened.
"My accusation, his arrest and eventual conviction robbed Mr. Ruffin of a normal life,"
she wrote. "The Commonwealth of Virginia can offer Mr. Ruffin help in finding some
normalcy for the rest of his life. He has lost the time that he would have used to learn
a trade, build a career and save money for his and his family's future."
Money certainly will help, but in the end, there will be no justice.
The DNA test that cleared Ruffin matched another Virginia inmate, Aaron "Bubba"
Doxie III. Doxie is a 47-year-old Army veteran serving three life terms for another
rape with eerily similar details to the one that put Ruffin in prison.
Doxie has a history of sexual assault allegations and convictions dating back to 1977,
all of which he has denied.
Two months before the December 1981 rape and sodomy in West Ghent that put
Ruffin in jail, Doxie stood in Norfolk juvenile court and was sentenced to 10 years in
prison, all of it suspended, for the attempted rape of an 11-year-old girl.
He was free until early March 1982, when he was convicted of assault and violating
probation and sentenced to a year in jail.
It wasn't long before he was released from the Norfolk jail that Doxie found himself in
Eventually, he would be accused of a rape in a case prosecuted by Slaughter, the
same man who won the verdict against Ruffin. Like Ruffin's, Doxie's first two trials
ended with hung juries. He was convicted after the third trial, in March 1984.
Last year, after Ruffin was cleared, Doxie was charged with the 1981 rape and
sodomy in West Ghent based on the DNA match. Doxie gave police a nine-page
statement, but in it he denied committing the crimes that sent Ruffin away.
The trial was set for Jan. 5.
19. At the last minute, prosecutors dropped the case. They informed the judge the
morning of the trial that two crucial witnesses, a detective and a scientist, had died.
They could not establish the necessary chain of custody of the DNA samples.
The same evidence used to clear Ruffin now cannot be used to convict anyone.
Ruffin stayed away from the courthouse that day.
He had hoped that there would finally be justice.
Instead, he will be the only man who ever pays for what happened to a Norfolk
woman on a December night in 1981.
Reach Tim McGlone at 446-2343 or tim.mcglone pilotonline.com