In 2002, Innocence Project client Joseph Buffey pleaded guilty to the rape and robbery of an elderly woman in Harrison County, West Virginia.
Six weeks prior to the final plea hearing, the state crime lab completed DNA testing that excluded Buffey as the perpetrator—but prosecutors never gave the report to either Buffey or his lawyer.
In 2012 when lawyers won the right to retest the DNA found inside the victim, the results produced a match, but it wasn’t Buffey’s. It belonged to a man named Adam Bowers who was 16 at the time of the attack and lived a few blocks from the victim.Bowers was found guilty in May of 2013 but, instead of releasing Buffey, prosecutors argued that Bowers and Buffey both committed the crime, despite the victims’s testimony that she was attacked by only one man.
Buffey was told he would likely receive a 15-year sentence, but if he didn’t confess he could get 300 years. When the sentence was handed down, it was a crushing blow: 70 to 110 years in a tiny prison cell.
Buffey confessed that he “broke into this old lady’s house” after nine hours of interrogations without food. Within minutes he took it back but it was too late. “You really want to know the truth?” the 19-year-old can be heard saying on tape. “I didn’t do it. I made up a story (because you were) breathing down my neck, telling me I did it.”
Starting on October 11th, 2016, a team of West Virginia and Innocence Project lawyers will be in court with Buffey, backed by science and the facts of the case, to fight for the verdict he deserves: not guilty.