CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A reason for the cancellation of a status hearing involving Joseph “Joe” Anthony Buffey has come to light.
Though attorneys were hesitant to give an explanation Thursday after the hearing was called off, a motion and subsequent order filed by Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Bedell –who was originally assigned the case– revealed he was transferring Judge John Lewis Marks, Jr. to the case.
The order did not go into detail regarding the reason for the transfer.
Bedell has handled the case since 2001 when Buffey was indicted on charges related to at least one break-in at downtown Clarksburg, as well as the robbery and sexual assault of an elderly woman who lived nearby.
He also oversaw Buffey’s deal with the state in 2002, where Buffey entered guilty pleas to two counts of two counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of first-degree robbery and sentenced him to a 70-year prison term.
Buffey would later learn that during the deal process DNA evidence was available that excluded him and indicated another man (evidence that would later be used to convict that individual).
With the backing of the New York-based Innocence Project and Morgantown attorney Al Karlin, Buffey would mount an appeal asking for permission to withdraw his guilty pleas. However, Judge Bedell would deny that appeal, sending it on to the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
Late last year, the high court issued a ruling that determined Buffey’s right’s were violated by the state not informing him of the potentially exculpatory evidence and he would be permitted to withdraw his pleas.
After 14 years in prison, Buffey withdrew his pleas in February and was approved for release on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond with the condition of electronically monitored home confinement.
On Thursday, attorneys representing the state and Buffey met with Judge Bedell in a private session before the scheduled status hearing to apparently discuss him transferring the case.
It’s not clear how the case will proceed, as there are several options for the state.
A new plea deal could be reached, the case could go to trial or the state could move to drop all the charges.
The last option is unlikely due to the original indictment charging him with more than just the rape and robbery of the elderly woman. Prosecutors agreed as part of the originaly deal to not pursue those charges if he agreed to plead guilty to the two counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of first-degree robbery.
The duty of setting a trial date and the dates for any hearings beforehand will now fall to Judge Marks.