Innocence Project rallies behind convicted rapist

In real life, justice rarely plays out the way it’s portrayed on television.  Actual cases are usually messier and more convoluted than what you see on NCIS or Law and Order.

Take for example the real-life case of Joseph Anthony “Joe” Buffey. The Harrison County man is serving 70 years in prison after pleading guilty to the 2001 rape and robbery of the 83-year-old mother of a Clarksburg police officer.

But the Innocence Project—a nationwide campaign to represent people who may have been falsely convicted—has taken up Buffey’s case.  Long-time Morgantown attorney Al Karlin is arguing on behalf of Buffey, who he believes is innocent.

In 2001, Buffey was a 19-year-old high school dropout and a petty criminal. In fact, the night before the assault, Buffey and two others broke in and robbed the Clarksburg Salvation Army office.

The robbery was near the victim’s home and Buffey was picked up for questioning.  After an eight-hour interrogation, he confessed to being in the victim’s house, but Karlin argues Buffey immediately retracted the statement.  Karlin adds that Buffey’s statement is inconsistent with the facts of the case.

Karlin says the most credible doubt comes, however, from the DNA extracted from sperm at the crime scene; it does not match Buffey, but rather 27-year-old Adam D. Bowers, who is now in prison for other crimes.

Karlin says in 2001, Bowers was a troubled teenager who lived three blocks from the victim and had been her paper boy.  Bowers had also been accused of a robbery where he used a butcher knife that matches the description of the knife used in the sexual assault.

But prosecutors still believe in Buffey’s guilt.  They now argue there was more than one attacker at the elderly woman’s house and that Buffey was one of them, along with Bowers.  The state also argues that Buffey would not have confessed to the crime if he were not involved.

Karlin says the state is wrong.

“The victim described in detail how she was sexually assaulted by a single perpetrator,” Karlin said.  “However, the DNA conclusively proves that Joseph Buffey was not that person.  The state’s forensic DNA expert and the expert for Mr. Buffey both agree; the DNA evidence left behind by the rapist was that of Adam Bowers, not Joseph Buffey.”

Harrison County Circuit Judge Thomas Bedell listened to three days of evidence last week, including sworn testimony by Buffey.   Now he must make a decision whether Buffey’s conviction should be overturned.

This will not be an easy call for the judge. Does he throw out the rape plea based on a confession or does he uphold the conviction, despite the DNA evidence that implicates another man in the assault?

The country’s justice system generally works pretty well, and there are a number of safeguards to protect the innocent, but occasionally mistakes are made.   If that’s the case here, then thank goodness for the Innocence Project.


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