Innocence Project Will Appeal Decision by West Virginia Court Refusing to Reverse Guilty Plea despite DNA Evidence of Innocence


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. To date, Buffey has served 12 years in prison.


Buffey was 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.


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. The victim made it clear in a lengthy statement that there was only one assailant, so the results serve as powerful proof of Buffey’s innocence. Despite the DNA results, 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.


The Innocence Project will appeal today’s decision.


Read a copy of today’s decision

as well as the legal papers submitted by the Innocence Project on Buffey’s behalf.

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