A judge Tuesday refused to reverse the guilty plea of a man whose lawyers argued that DNA evidence cleared him of the 2001 rape of a Clarksburg police officer’s mother.
Joseph Buffey’s guilty plea for the rape will stand, Harrison County Circuit Judge Thomas Bedell ruled. In a 119-page order, Bedell described Buffey as having “buyer’s remorse.”
Buffey started a long appeals process shortly after his conviction, accusing investigators of coercing his confession the night of the crime, lying to a grand jury and indirectly forcing him into the guilty plea. Buffey was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
In 2011, attorneys from the Innocence Project announced that the FBI’s Convicted Offender DNA Index System had located the formerly unknown male who raped the woman.
“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. “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.”
Prosecutors argued that the DNA test didn’t prove Buffey’s innocence and could’ve meant he had an accomplice.
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, attorneys from the Innocence Project said in a news release after Bedell’s order was filed.
On Nov. 30, 2001, an 83-year-old woman whom court files have identified only as Ms. L, was robbed and raped in her home in Clarksburg. She did not recognize the man who raped her, but indicated that he was probably in his mid- to early 20s.
The night before the assault, several young men burglarized a local Salvation Army. Police matched fingerprints in the burglary to Buffey. Days later, one of Buffey’s accomplices in the burglary, Ronald Perry, told police that Buffey had raped Ms. L.
A grand jury eventually indicted Buffey on one count of burglary, five counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of assault during a felony, one count of kidnapping, and a slew of lesser felony charges relating to both the Salvation Army burglary and the break-in at Ms. L’s home.
He gave police a blood sample for DNA testing, but pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and one count of first-degree robbery before the results of the test came back.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed from several unrelated break-ins of local businesses.
“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, who also represents Buffey. “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.”
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.