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West Virginia Supreme Court rules man serving time in 2001 sex assault can withdraw plea


CHARLESTON, West Virginia — The state Supreme Court says an inmate's due process rights were violated when prosecutors failed to disclose that DNA tests exonerated him in a 2001 rape case.

The justices said Tuesday the tests in Joseph Buffey's favor were completed six weeks prior to his 2002 plea hearing and he was unaware of the results at the time. Buffey has served more than 13 years of a 70-year sentence for the rape and robbery of an 83-year-old Clarksburg woman. Buffey has said his confession was coerced.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Harrison County Circuit Court to allow Buffey to withdraw his guilty plea.

"We're really gratified by the decision," said Buffey's attorney, Allan Karlin. "It's important to Joe Buffey, but it's also extremely important to state and federal constitutional law. It extends the obligation of prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence to the plea bargain stages in criminal cases."

It wasn't immediately known whether the Harrison County prosecutor's office planned to continue pursuing the case. A message left with the office after business hours Tuesday wasn't immediately returned.

A co-defendant, Adam Bowers, was sentenced in September to up to 70 years in prison after a jury convicted him of first-degree sexual assault, robbery and burglary. Authorities said Bowers was linked by DNA evidence to the attack through a search of an FBI database.

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