House OKs bill to pay wrongfully imprisoned Suffolk man

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND – Everyone agrees Julius Earl Ruffin deserves some money. The question is how much.

Virginia’s House of Delegates approved a bill Tuesday that would pay Ruffin $750,000 in restitution for the 21 years he spent in prison for a rape that DNA evidence later proved he didn’t commit. The Senate already has approved $1.5 million.

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Both sides will now negotiate in a conference committee on a sum that likely will be between the two. The measure overwhelmingly passed the House, 87-13, though some felt Ruffin wasn’t offered enough compensation.

&uot;It’s not fair,&uot; said Del. Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake. &uot;It should be based on time served.&uot;

Spruill noted that the legislature gave Marvin Lamont Anderson $1.2 million last year after he spent 15 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Two years ago, Jeffrey Cox was given $750,000 for the 11 years he spent in prison before being cleared of murder.

Another bill passed by the House Tuesday seeks to create a fixed amount for future claims bills. Del. Robert Tata’s legislation would give wrongfully convicted people $70 for every day they spend in jail, up to a maximum of $500,000.

In addition, every prisoner would be given $15,000 upon release in a &uot;transition assistance grant.&uot; Money also would be made available if the person completes technical training at a community college.

Ruffin, 50, was convicted in 1982 of raping a Norfolk woman and sentenced to five life terms in prison. He testified before a Senate committee earlier this month that he was repeatedly turned down for DNA testing following his conviction because authorities insisted the evidence in his case had been destroyed.

However, biological samples were discovered in 2002 and testing pointed to another man. Ruffin was released last February.

Ruffin’s victim also testified in the same Senate committee, apologizing for her role in Ruffin’s imprisonment but also blaming it on the all-white jury that convicted him. Ruffin is black.

Others in the House thought lawmakers were being too generous. Del. Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, said he thought Ruffin’s payment should be under the $500,000 cap to conform with Tata’s bill.

But Sen. Benjamin Lambert, D-Richmond, who sponsored Ruffin’s claims bill in the Senate, said Ruffin deserved at least as much as Anderson, who served six fewer years.

&uot;These people putting caps on it, if it was their child, they’d be trying to sue the Capitol,&uot; he said. &uot;Each case is different.&uot;

Lambert said he would try to kill Tata’s bill in the Senate.