Prosecution Pushed Guilty Plea While Withholding DNA Test Results Excluding Defendant
Contact: Paul Cates,
(Clarksburg, WV — June 3, 2014) A West Virginia court issued a decision today letting stand the 2001 guilty plea of Joseph Buffey despite DNA evidence pointing to his innocence of the rape and robbery of an elderly widow whose son was a local police officer. The court refused to reverse the guilty plea even though the Innocence Project uncovered evidence that law enforcement had possession of DNA testing excluding Buffey of the crime before he entered the plea but never turned it over to the defense as required.
“The DNA evidence is definitive evidence proving that Mr. Buffey is innocent of this single perpetrator rape,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Judge Bedell refuses to acknowledge that the criminal justice system’s reliance on guilty pleas has resulted in far too many people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. While we wish the outcome had been different, it’s clear that courts outside of Clarksburg will need to review this case in order for Mr. Buffey to receive justice.”
Buffey was just 19 years old when he entered a guilty plea to the rape and robbery of an 83-year-old Clarksburg woman. Faced with a sentence of 200 to 300 years in prison if convicted at trial, Buffey took the plea on the advice of his attorney. In exchange for his plea, the state agreed to dismiss charges from several unrelated break-ins of local businesses. Buffey immediately regretted pleading guilty to a crime he didn’t commit and filed his own motion for DNA testing and to withdraw his plea. He also sought the services of the Innocence Project, which took his case.
False Confessions and guilty pleas are common among DNA exonerations. In fact, innocent defendants have made incriminating statements, confessions and or plead guilty in approximately 25% of the 316 DNA exonerations. Innocent defendants have pled guilty in nearly 10% of the DNA exonerations.
The Innocence Project secured a court order for DNA testing and learned in May 2011 that Buffey did not match the DNA profile of the sperm recovered from the rape kit. Victim made it clear in a lengthy statement that there was only one assailant, so the results then are powerful proof of Buffey’s innocence. However, the Harris County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has refused to acknowledge Buffey’s innocence and repeatedly fought efforts by the Innocence Project to run the profile in the federal DNA database to see if it matched a convicted offender.
In the course of its investigation, the Innocence Project also discovered that law enforcement obtained, but never disclosed to the defendant as required, DNA testing excluding Buffey as the perpetrator before he entered the guilty plea in the case. According to the Innocence Project, this violation of Buffey’s constitutional rights alone is grounds for the court to reverse the plea.
“This was a terrible crime involving the mother of one of their own, so no doubt law enforcement was eager to wrap this case up quickly. But when the DNA testing came back excluding Mr. Buffey as the perpetrator, the prosecution not only had a constitutional obligation to turn this information over to the defense, but it should have realized then that something was terribly wrong with this case,” said Nina Morrison, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project.” “Instead they allowed an innocence man to enter a plea rather than following up on the new information they had.”
Although the victim always maintained that she was raped by a single assailant, the prosecution has refused to acknowledge Buffey’s innocence and is now insisting that he must have acted in concert with another perpetrator. The victim told police that she was asleep in her home and woke to find a single male standing above her. The assailant took her around the house at knifepoint to search for cash and then took her back upstairs to the bedroom and raped her. He then tied her up with two belts, ordered her not to call anyone for 20 minutes and fled the scene.
After he was arrested and interrogated overnight for more than nine hours, police persuaded Buffey to make a taped statement implicating himself in the crime. In his statement, however, Buffey is repeatedly prompted by the police about basic crime scene details he cannot supply on his own and gives and account of the incident that varies wildly from that of the victim. In his statement, he says that he entered her home, came face-to-face with the victim in her dining room and fled once she started screaming.
“A 19-year-old who makes the unfortunate decision to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit shouldn’t suffer for the rest of his life for that one bad decision,” said Allan N. Karlin, of Allan N. Karlin & Associates, which is representing Buffey with the Innocence Project. “We feel optimistic that the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia will have a more objective view of this case and will eventually set him free.”
A copy of today’s decision as well as the legal papers submitted by the Innocence Project on Buffey’s behalf can be found at