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No winners in Ruffin sentencing

By By Suzanne Monk/The Meridian Star
Dec. 19, 2001
A civil hearing in the courtroom was still going on Tuesday morning as Tyrone Moffite's mother arrived, so she sat down at a little table in the lobby.
Her business at the Lauderdale County Courthouse was unhappy. She had come to speak at the sentencing hearing of Johnathan Ruffin, the second of two men convicted of manslaughter in the death of her son.
Moffite died late at night on May 27 in what sheriff's deputies and the district attorney's office said was a drug deal gone bad but Annie Blakney didn't believe that.
She had come to the courthouse to say so.
With her were her two daughters, and other friends and family members.
Ruffin's family and pastor arrived from Alabama. By now, the small third-floor courtroom was empty, and they entered, choosing seats directly behind the defendant's chair. Ruffin had been brought over from the jail just across the street. He was shackled hand and foot, and was wearing the traditional red-and-white stripes of the violent offender.
Shirley Adams, a victims' rights coordinator who works for District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell, escorted Moffite's family and friends into the courtroom and sat down with them across the aisle.
There was a little eye contact between the two families, but not much. Both families had babies with them, and one of them was a little fussy. With the pew-style seating, it could have almost have been a church service.
Circuit Judge Robert Bailey took his place behind the bench, and the gathering of people came into focus. Tyrone Moffite had died violently and this was a sentencing hearing for the young man who had admitted shooting him.
Victim's family speaks
The judge explained both sides would be given an opportunity to say something before he sentenced Ruffin first the victim's family, then the defendant's.
Annie Blakney took the stand first.
Assistant District Attorney Andy Davis asked her what she wanted to say.
Asked what sentence she wanted Ruffin to receive, Annie Blakney said life without parole. It was explained to her that the maximum sentence for manslaughter was 20 years. In that case, then, she wanted the maximum.
The dead man's sister, Cindy Blakney, spoke next. Like her mother, she didn't believe Moffite had been involved in a drug deal when he was shot. Like her mother, she didn't believe 20 years was enough.
The plea agreement
The plea negotiation process had been hard on Moffite's family. Ruffin and another man, Morris Griggs, had originally been arrested and indicted for capital murder.
The district attorney's office announced in October it would not seek the death penalty. The decision to allow the defendants to plead guilty to manslaughter came in November.
Defendant's family speaks
Attorney David Stephenson told the judge that Ruffin's father and pastor were present, but had decided not to testify. Bailey began to speak.
The request was granted and Ruffin's brother, Derrick, took the stand. Derrick Ruffin was visibly angry. He said he thought his brother should pay for his crime but that the victim also had some responsibility in his own death.
Bailey imposes sentence
The judge has seen a lot of this kind of thing.
He noted that this was not the first time Ruffin had shot someone, but it was the first time he had killed someone. Ruffin was convicted in a shooting in Choctaw County in 1995, and was sentenced to 15 years. Bailey also noted that Ruffin had a juvenile record.
The judge sentenced Ruffin to the maximum of 20 years, and ordered him to pay $4,083 to Annie Blakney the cost of her son's funeral and grave stone.
The hearing was over, and the two families were escorted separately from the courthouse. Under his breath, Derrick Ruffin muttered an obscenity.
Two women from Ruffin's side of the family waited silently outside the courthouse, sitting on a bench on the Fifth Street side, the side they knew the deputies would bring Ruffin out. One held a baby.
They pressed their hands to their mouths when they caught sight of him. They crossed the street as he crossed the street, and kept their eyes on him until he disappeared inside the jail.
Then they climbed into their van. Within moments, one re-emerged and ran back across the street to the bench. Stooping, crying, she picked something up and ran back to the waiting van.
The baby had lost its shoe.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at