- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) — What’s the price of 21 stolen years?

State Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, Richmond Democrat, thinks it ought to be about $3 million.

He plans to submit a bill in the Senate that would pay that amount to Julius Earl Ruffin, the Suffolk man who spent 21 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him last year of raping and sodomizing a Norfolk woman in 1981.

“There’s no way, really, to put a price on what this has cost me and my family,” Mr. Ruffin said. “But I need to be compensated for the wrong that was done to me.”

He would be the seventh former prisoner in the past decade to request payment for a wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Not all have been paid.

Delegate S. Chris Jones, Suffolk Republican, plans to submit a bill for $3 million for Mr. Ruffin’s compensation in the House of Delegates, Mr. Lambert said.

The former prosecutor and victim in Mr. Ruffin’s case have written letters urging the state to compensate the former prisoner. Mr. Ruffin, 50, was jailed in 1982, sentenced to five life terms and denied parole. He was released in February.

“No one can pay you the full amount of what you missed [while] in prison,” Mr. Lambert said. “But when you make a mistake like this, the system needs to pay something for it.”

Before he was arrested, Mr. Ruffin earned about $4 an hour and was training to become an electrician. He said he made about $1 a day doing prison work over the years.

“He deserves more than just his lost wages for those years,” said Gordon Zedd, Mr. Ruffin’s attorney.

The $3 million would include damages for pain, suffering and loss of liberty. The most recent and largest payout went earlier this year to Marvin Lamont Anderson, 39, a Hanover County man who spent 15 years in prison for a 1982 rape that he did not commit.

Mr. Anderson’s tab eventually could cost the state about $1.2 million, Mr. Lambert said. The settlement included $200,000 in cash and about $40,000 in annual payments for the rest of his life. He had sought $1.5 million.

Mr. Lambert, who sponsored the Senate bill to pay Mr. Anderson, expects Mr. Ruffin’s eventual restitution to include a combination of cash and annual payments. He also expects it to face obstacles from senators and delegates.

His bill comes at a time when state budgets are awash in red ink. In addition, Virginia is trying to establish compensation guidelines for people in situations similar to that of Ruffin’s.

Earlier this year, legislators set up a joint Senate-House committee to recommend ways to handle future cases. The committee includes just two legislators — Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, Suffolk Republican, and Delegate Robert Tata, Virginia Beach Republican.

The impetus for setting some rules was that science is getting better every year at determining guilt and innocence, Mr. Quayle said.

“We’ve got to be ready for more and more of these cases to come along,” he said.

Eighteen other states and the federal government have restitution procedures in place, but there’s little consistency in their approaches. Some states cap the money that can be paid. Others let judges, legislatures or other public bodies decide each case.

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