CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Clarksburg Police Department detective coerced a confession from a man in the 2001 rape and robbery of an elderly woman, and gave false details of the interrogation to a grand jury, the man's lawyer alleged in a recent court filing.
The allegations come as the man's lawyers argue that DNA evidence shows their client, Joseph A. Buffey, was not at the scene of the crime that night.
In a petition filed last month, Buffey's lawyer says then-Clarksburg detective Robert G. Matheny testified falsely before a Harrison County grand jury, allowing the panel to indict Buffey for the rape of "Ms. L," an 83-year-old woman and mother of a Clarksburg police officer.
"Throughout his testimony, Detective Matheny blatantly misrepresented and vastly overstated the slim case the state had developed against [Buffey]," Nina Morrison, Buffey's attorney, wrote in the petition. "He falsely testified to facts that were plainly contradicted by the record."
The petition accuses Matheny, among other things, of telling grand jurors that Buffey admitted to blacking out soon after he confronted Ms. L in her home, and claimed to not remember what had transpired from there. Matheny also allegedly told grand jurors that Buffey had inside knowledge of the entry point to the house -- information only the perpetrator would know.
According to the petition, though, Buffey's recounting of the incident contradicted many of the facts that detectives had unearthed - including the entry point to the home, which Buffey had guessed incorrectly. He also denies ever blacking out, according the petition.
Last month's filing comes after new DNA tests show that Buffey was not at the scene that night, his lawyers argue. The unknown male DNA profile investigators found at the scene is unique in one out of 40 billion white males, they said, and does not match Buffey's DNA.
Late last year, Buffey's lawyers tried to get the DNA entered into a national database to see if it matched any known criminals. Harrison County officials denied the request because the DNA testing was done by a private company and not an accredited agency such as the West Virginia State Police.
Law enforcement officials point to Buffey's confession to police officers, and his willingness to plead guilty to rape charges, as incontrovertible evidence of his guilt.
Matheny told the Gazette-Mail that he could not comment on the specifics of the case, or the grand jury proceedings, because he does not remember.
"I will comment in general, we had what we thought was a pretty strong case," Matheny said Friday. "I know that Buffey had a very competent trial attorney representing him. I believe he set a factual representation [of the plea] in circuit court."
Matheny, who now is with National White Collar Crime Center, said that during his time as a police officer, he has testified in front of grand juries hundreds of times, and would have trouble recalling any specific instance a decade ago.
"I have never knowingly or intentionally given false information to a grand jury," he said, "nor would I, ever."
In their petition, Buffey's lawyers ask a judge to vacate his conviction and overturn his guilty plea. They also want a hearing to consider their petition.
Early on Nov. 30, 2001, Ms. L awoke to find a young man standing in the second-floor bedroom of her Bridge Street home, according to the petition, which cites the Clarksburg Police investigative report of the incident.
"This is a robbery," the intruder, brandishing a large knife, told Ms. L. "I need your money."
At knifepoint, the man took the woman downstairs. She gave him nine dollars, which was all of the cash she had inside the home. He told her to find more money, so she took him back upstairs, and gave him the change that was on her bedroom dresser, the petition states.
The man then ordered her to take off her clothes, and raped her, the petition states. He then bound her hands behind her back with two belts.
"If you call anybody within the next twenty minutes," he said, "I'll kill you."
Police arrested Buffey and two other men one week later on charges related to a string of break-ins around Clarksburg. One of the men, Andrew Locke, told police that, at one point, Buffey separated from the group and broke into a home and "things didn't go as planned," according to the petition.
Locke never said that Buffey had claimed to rape anyone in the home, the petition states. Locke did say that Buffey said he had taken nine dollars in the robbery. Matheny relayed that information to the grand jury, according to the transcript.
Police began interrogating Buffey at about 7 p.m. on Dec. 7. By 3:25 a.m. the next day, the investigators had secured a confession, the petition states.
Buffey's lawyers, however, call it a "quasi-confession." They note that he did not admit any acts of violence against Ms. L, just a break-in. Furthermore, his account of what happened was inconsistent with what the investigators were told, the lawyers said.
For instance, Buffey told the police that he entered the side of the house, even though police dogs found that the alleged intruder had entered through the back. Buffey also told investigators that he "first encountered the lady in the dining room" and that she "flipped out" and began "yelling and screaming."
"By contrast, Ms. L quite clearly reported being awakened by the knife-wielding intruder while she was sleeping in her upstairs bedroom," Morrison wrote in the petition.
Minutes after giving his confession, Buffey recanted it, the petition states. The officers went back into the interrogation room, and Matheny told Buffey that he was going to give him an opportunity "to sing."
"You really want to know the truth?" Buffey asked, according to the petition.
"Yeah, we want the truth," was the reply.
"I didn't do it."