A man who spent nearly 15 years behind bars for a crime he said he didn’t commit was freed from jail Tuesday.

Joseph Buffey, 34, will not go to trial for the 2001 rape and robbery of an elderly woman after agreeing to a plea deal Tuesday morning in front of Harrison County Circuit Court Judge John Marks.

Buffey entered a Kennedy Plea to burglary and robbery charges in relation to the 2001 robbery of the elderly woman, and in exchange, had all sexual assault charges dropped. 

“I didn’t do it, but I believe it’s in my best interest [to enter a Kennedy Plea],” Buffey said.

With a Kennedy Plea, a defendant acknowledges that the prosecution likely has enough evidence to get a conviction but is able to maintain innocence.

However, Buffey did admit guilt to multiple breaking and entering incidents, including incidents at the Stealey Pool, the Smoker’s Choice, the Salvation Army, and the Good Hope Animal Clinic.

Marks sentenced Buffey on nine charges he pleaded to, giving Buffey credit for serving 14 years and 102 days in prison. Buffey was then released with no further prison time required. However, Buffey is responsible for paying back $1,175.54 to Kroger after he wrote a bad check in September. Buffey was charged with fraudulent schemes in that incident.

Friends and family surrounded Buffey Tuesday morning offering hugs of support after learning he is now free from prison.

“I’m very pleased,” said Joseph Buffey’s sister Kayla Buffey. “It’s been a long time, and I’m glad it’s over.”

Buffey’s mother, Dotty Sue Swiger, agreed with Kayla

“I’m just glad it’s all over. My son can be free and go on to live his life,” said Swiger. “It’s been a nightmare.”

Buffey’s attorney, Allan Karlin, said it was a nightmare that never should have lasted as long as it did.

“In 2002, the state had DNA results that showed that Joe Buffey was not guilty, but they basically ignored it,” said Karlin. “In 2003-2004 in his first habeus hearings, they had those same results that showed he was not guilty but again, they not only ignored it but in hearings misrepresented what it says.”

Buffey seemed just as relieved as his loved ones and attorney Tuesday.

“I couldn’t lose hope,” said Buffey. “I knew it would end eventually. I just had to keep fighting.”