This morning in Harrison County, West Virginia, Innocence Project attorneys asked the Circuit Court Judge to reverse the conviction of Joseph Buffey and release him on bond based on DNA evidence pointing to the real perpetrator in the case. The court stopped short of releasing Buffey, but adjourned the case for a full hearing in March.
Buffey pleaded guilty to the 2001 rape and robbery of an 83-year-old woman based on the advice of his lawyer who told him he risked a sentence of 200 to 300 years in prison if he went to trial and was convicted. He quickly regretted his plea, but it was too late. Buffey has spent the last 11 years behind bars. Defendants in nearly 10% of the 301 DNA exonerations have pled guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.
DNA testing conducted in May 2011 excluded Buffey, and after months of resistance from the prosecution, the profile was finally run through the federal DNA database to see if it matched a convicted offender. It identified another man with multiple felony criminal convictions, including breaking into a residence and robbing and assaulting a woman.
The Innocence Project questions prosecutors’ resistance to the DNA database search and their insistence that Buffey is guilty despite the DNA results. The Associated Press reports:
“Why would you not want to know who committed this crime so you could prosecute them, especially if this person could be on the street and could be committing more crimes?” asked Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project. “Personally, that’s when we reached the conclusion that the prosecuting attorney in this case was less interested in finding out the truth and finding out who committed this crime, and more interested in protecting who might be at fault for failing to find who committed this crime.”
In a rare move last month, Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Thomas A. Bedell ordered every state agency that had any contact with the case to turn over its files to Buffey’s attorneys. According to the Innocence Project, that has yet to happen.
the motion filed on December 10
, explaining the DNA evidence and pointing out why the defendant should be freed.