Harrison County Man Claims Innocence in Rape and Rob Years Later - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Harrison County Man Claims Innocence in Rape and Robbery Charges Years Later

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They're just four words. But those four words have become synonymous with the American justice system: "innocent until proven guilty."

A man in Harrison County is challenging that, years after he was sent to prison.

Joseph Buffey was accused of the rape and robbery of an elderly woman in Harrison County back in 2001.

"A break-in robbery rape of an elderly woman who was the mother of a police officer here in Clarksburg," said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project.

Buffey pleaded guilty to those charges, but later recanted his plea.

"Before DNA test results came back, he was strongly recommended by his lawyers. His lawyers, on the record, said to take a guilty plea. So he did take a guilty plea," Scheck said.

Buffey was sentenced to 40 years in prison for those charges.

A status conference for Buffey's challenge was held on Thursday in front of Harrison County Circuit Judge Thomas Bedell.

The Innocence Project said DNA sperm results indicate Buffey is not guilty and argued Buffey should be allowed to recant his plea and be released from prison.

But Assistant Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney David Romano said it will take much more than DNA results to get Buffey out of prison.

Romano said Buffey will need "a compelling reason for why he pleaded guilty."

Romano added it is extremely difficult for a person to retract sworn statements in a guilty plea and said the burden is now on Buffey and his lawyers. He said for Buffey's plea to be overturned, Buffey and his lawyers would have to show "innocence without a doubt."

Romano added in court that Buffey waived his right to challenge "error, if there was any, when he plead guilty."

Buffey's team said there's "scientific evidence" and "irrefutable facts" that now exclude Buffey from those crimes.  It said the state could re-prosecute Buffey if it felt it had enough evidence to do so.

"Then the Innocence Project got involved. We got another set of tests done that we thought definitively excluded him," Scheck said.

Scheck said DNA sperm results show Buffey's innocence and another man's guilt.

"The reason we are here in court is it can now be said in public that, just the other day, there was a hit to a young man," Scheck said.

The name was brought up in court but it's against 12 News' policy to identify suspects until they've been formally charged.

The Innocence Project called out the prosecuting attorney's office for not making those charges, and said the state should be doing more to "prosecute the man who really did this, so the person responsible doesn't get back on the streets."

As of Thursday, that man was not charged, but Romano said he is being investigated, and the investigation is ongoing.

Judge Bedell stated in court that he would not make a decision to release Buffey without evidence in front of him.

Another status conference is scheduled for Jan. 16 at 1:15 p.m. in Harrison County Circuit Court. The court also scheduled a status conference for Feb. 15 at 10 a.m.

A hearing for Buffey's request to be released from prison is set to start on March 27.