Attorneys for a West Virginia inmate who has served more than a decade for a rape his lawyers claim DNA proves he didn’t commit are headed back to court to try to clear his name.
Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Bedell is considering whether to overturn Joseph Buffey’s conviction for the 2001 rape and robbery of an 83-year-old Clarksburg woman. Buffey pleaded guilty to the crime, but later said his confession was coerced.
A three-day hearing began Wednesday. Bedell could rule this week or could take additional time.
A DNA test conducted on biological evidence left at the scene excluded Buffey as a contributor in 2011. Buffey’s attorneys fought for more than a year to have the DNA run through the national criminal database.
In November, authorities did so and it hit on another man, Adam Bowers, who is serving time for another assault and previously was convicted of breaking and entering.
Prosecutors charged Bowers with the crime, but they are fighting efforts to free Buffey.
Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Shaffer told The Associated Press last December that the DNA test didn’t prove Buffey’s innocence and that further investigation was necessary.
Shaffer argued that Buffey could have been an accomplice. But Buffey’s attorneys argue the woman was with her attacker for several hours and suffered multiple attacks, all of which she testified came from one man.
The victim will not testify during the hearing, but Bedell will hear from Buffey, police and several other witnesses.
Buffey’s attorneys say he confessed after eight hours of interrogation, giving facts that were “wildly inconsistent” with the crime. The victim did not pick his photo from a lineup even after his confession.
They claim the then-19-year-old was pressured by his lawyer into pleading guilty, which resulted in charges involved in three break-ins being dropped.
“We believe the evidence of Joseph Buffey’s innocence is overwhelming,” said Nina Morrison, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Buffey. “The record has always shown that this crime was committed by one person and thanks to the DNA we now know who that person is. It’s Adam Bowers and not Joseph Buffey.
“We look forward to presenting our case.”
Even if the conviction is tossed out, prosecutors still could retry Buffey.