CHARLESTON (AP) — A West Virginia inmate who has served 11 years for a rape his attorneys claim DNA proves he didn’t commit will not be released while his appeal is pending, a Harrison County judge ruled Thursday.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Bedell instead said he’d give prosecutors more time to respond to a recent DNA test on biological evidence left at the 2001 crime scene that matches another inmate and not Joseph Buffey, who was convicted of raping and robbing an 83-year-old Clarksburg woman.
Buffey’s attorneys argued he should be released on bond while Bedell considers whether to overturn his conviction. Buffey pleaded guilty to the crime, but later said his confession was coerced.
A test last year excluded Buffey as a contributor to the DNA left during the crime. His attorneys then fought for more than a year to have the DNA run through a national criminal database. Late last month it hit on another man who was serving time in West Virginia for another crime.
On Thursday, Bedell allowed that man’s name to be released for the first time, media outlets reported. Adam Bowers, 27, is serving time for another assault and previously was convicted of record of breaking and entering.
Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Shaffer fought the motion to release Buffey, saying the DNA tests do not prove Buffey is innocent.
“You have to keep in mind that Mr. Buffey did in fact plead guilty to this,” Shaffer told the AP. “We’re not just going to agree to unlock the doors to the jailhouse merely because somebody else’s DNA was found at the scene. It does merit further investigation, obviously.”
Buffey’s attorneys say prosecutors’ reluctance to run the DNA through the database — and their insistence he is guilty despite the DNA tests and other evidence — raises questions about their motives. Shaffer wasn’t in office when Buffey was prosecuted, but came in shortly after.
“Why would you not want to know who committed this crime so you could prosecute them, especially if this person could be on the street and could be committing more crimes?” asked Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project. “Personally, that’s when we reached the conclusion that the prosecuting attorney in this case was less interested in finding out the truth and finding out who committed this crime, and more interested in protecting who might be at fault for failing to find who committed this crime.”
The victim said she was attacked by one man. Buffey’s attorneys said the victim spent considerable time with the suspect and that she was subjected to multiple assaults, so she would know if two attackers were involved. If the DNA evidence excludes Buffey and points to another person, they say, it proves Buffey was not involved.
Shaffer argued that Buffey could have been an unseen accomplice.
“We need to go back and look at her statement to determine what she may have meant by what she may have said,” Shaffer said. “We’d like to try to re-interview her, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be possible because of her age.”
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. They stress that 10 percent of the 301 people exonerated through DNA testing originally pleaded guilty to the crimes for which they were eventually proven innocent.
Even if the conviction is tossed out, prosecutors still could retry Buffey.