When the applications do start rolling in, the clinic's student screeners will generally take two factors into account in determining whether to take a case: the credibility of the applicant and whether there is likely to be evidence that would conclusively point to an exoneration.
Part of the application asks the prisoner, "are you factually innocent of the crime," a seemingly strange question to ask someone applying to a program called the "Innocence Project." But Beety said that, sometimes, an applicant would claim to have played a circumstantial role in the crime.
For instance, in the case of a shooting in which several people were involved, an applicant convicted of murder might say, "I was there, but I wasn't the person who did the shooting."
"That's a really difficult case for us to prove," Beety said. "You've already admitted to being an accomplice."
Self-defense cases, and cases where people convicted of rape claim that the sex was consensual also fall under the category of cases the Innocence Project likely would pass up, Beety said.
The project also does not take on drug cases, she said.
Lawyers for the national Innocence Project are already involved in one West Virginia case.
Joseph Buffey was convicted in 2002 of reportedly raping the 83-year old mother of a Clarksburg police officer in her home. Lawyers representing Buffey said the combination of a coerced confession and an inadequate representation from lawyers at the time of his trial in 2002 led to his conviction.
DNA evidence has since proved that Buffey was not at the scene of the crime when the woman was raped, his lawyers say.
Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.tay...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.