The Innocence Project has lost the first attempt to free Joseph Anthony Buffey (above).  The Clarksburg, West Virginia man is serving 70 years in prison after he pled guilty to the 2001 rape and robbery of the 83-year-old mother of a police officer.  Harrison County Court Judge Thomas Bedell, who presided over the trial, rejected the arguments made by the project concluding that Buffey has “buyer’s remorse” over his plea agreement.  Buffey was 19 at the time.  Attorney Al Karlin says Buffey confessed to the attack after an intense 8 hour interrogation and immediately retracted.  The crime is one of the most heinous in the area’s history.  An elderly woman, living alone, was robbed then raped several times.

Recent DNA testing shows that the DNA left behind by the multiple rapes match Adam Bowers, not Buffey.  Adam Bowers is awaiting trial for the crime.

Harrison County Assistant Prosecutor David Ramano now argues that there was more than one man at the scene of the crime.  That while DNA implicates Bower, Buffey isn’t necessarily innocent.  Judge Bedell gave the appeal a 3 day review before reaching his decision.  He noted that Buffey could have gone to trial or waited for the result of early DNA testing, but instead accepted a plea agreement.

The prosecution agreed, “If he had wanted to stand trial, he had the opportunity.”

Karlin says it’s not that simple, “There is real evidence that innocent people plead guilty much more often than people would like to believe, often out of fear that if they go ahead…worse things will happen…That’s what happened [here].”

The Innocence Project will now appeal to the state Supreme Court.  Karlin says Buffey is “fighting to retain his optimism.”  But, as case after case shows, courts are naturally suspicious and reluctant to grant requests to set aside guilty pleas even with alternative evidence.  Buffey has served 13 years.

The Innocence Project also uncovered that the early DNA tests the judge referred to, which police had in their possession this entire time, showed that Buffey was excluded as a contributor to the rape kit tests, but did nothing with them until now.  Karlin said that like most plea deals, there is a time limit to the decision, which can add pressure to the already scary experience of facing trial.

“The horrible mistake he made many years ago in pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit, that one mistake should not take away almost his natural life. That’s the way it stands and that’s what we’re trying to fix.”


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