Correcting and Preventing Wrongful Convictions in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Julius Ruffin

Date / Location:December 6, 1981, Norfolk, Virginia Conviction:Rape, sodomy, robbery
Year of Conviction:Life imprisonment Release Date:1982
Sentence:February 13, 2003 (received a pardon from the governor a month later) Sentence Served:21 years
Real perpetrator found?:Yes Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:Witness misidentification, victim and police officer changed their testimony
Compensation?:Yes, $1.5 million

Julius Earl Ruffin spent more than 20 years in prison before DNA evidence led to his exoneration.  Ruffin was convicted of rape, sodomy and robbery and sentenced to life in prison based on mistaken eyewitness identification, despite his claims of innocence and alibi witnesses.

On December 6, 1981, a divorced mother of three was awakened in the middle of the night by an intruder at her home in Norfolk, Virginia.  He threatened her with a knife, telling her that if she screamed he would kill her.  He told her that he just wanted to rape her and then he proceeded to do so.  The rapist told the victim not to look at his face and repeatedly entered and exited the room, pretending to be different people.  After raping the victim in both her bedroom and the living room, the rapist ordered the victim to shower and asked her for money.  He told her he would be watching her and then left.  The victim waited 45 minutes before running to a neighbor’s apartment and calling the police.  Immediately after the attack, the victim looked at more than 500 mug shots, hoping to find the attacker.  She saw one man who looked similar, but not identical, to the rapist.  The victim described her attacker as an African- American male, about 5’6 to 5’8, with dark skin.

In the weeks following the attack, the victim reported that she would scan crowds and look at black males, searching for her attacker.  One afternoon while at work, the victim saw a maintenance man she recognized as her attacker.  The victim arranged for him to come to her office for some repairs so that she could make sure.  After seeing the man again, she called police.  That man was Julius Earl Ruffin.

After the victimEarl Ruffin1.jpg identified him, Ruffin was asked by police to come to the station.  Unsure of what they wanted, Ruffin accompanied them and was interrogated about the rape.  Ruffin told officers that he knew nothing about the crime.  He had been with his girlfriend, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend the night of the crime, watching a movie.  Ruffin did not match the description initially given by the victim – he was 6’1, light skinned, had two noticeable gold teeth, and also had facial hair.  After questioning, Ruffin participated in a lineup, where the victim again identified him.

It took three separate trials for the prosecution to convict Ruffin.  In the first two trials, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, resulting in mistrials.  Both of these juries contained a mixture of white and black jurors.  In Ruffin’s third trial, the prosecution used all of its peremptory strikes against potential black jurors, resulting in an all-white jury.  The victim also altered her testimony in the third trial, now describing the rapist as taller than the 5’8 she initially reported.  The police officer who had questioned Ruffin also changed his story, raising doubts about what Ruffin initially told police regarding his alibi.  At the end of this trial, the jury deliberated for seven minutes before finding Ruffin guilty.  He was sentenced to life in prison.

Ruffin was not able to secure relief during his direct appeal or other post-conviction petitions.  He refused to participate in parole proceedings because they required him to admit guilt.  In 1994, Ruffin learned of DNA testing and tried to get the evidence from his case tested.  Ruffin was informed that the evidence from his case had been destroyed, as was state policy.  However, in June 2002, after the passage of the new Virginia law allowing for felons to petition the court for biological testing, Ruffin got lucky.  It turned out that samples from his case were found in the lab notebook of the technician who had originally tested the evidence.  This newly found evidence was tested and excluded Ruffin as the rapist.

On February 13, 2003, after serving 21 years in prison, Julius Ruffin was released.  He was granted a full pardon by then-Governor Mark Warner on March 19, 2003.

The DNA testing that exonerated Ruffin also implicated another man, Aaron Doxie, who already was serving three life sentences for other sexual assaults.  Doxie also committed the crimes first attributed to exoneree Arthur Lee Whitfield.

Julius Earl Ruffin still resides in Virginia, living with his family and girlfriend. He received $1.5 million dollars in compensation from the state of Virginia.