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Lawyers say DNA search clears man jailed in Clarksburg rape

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lawyers say a national DNA database search has identified the alleged rapist of an elderly Clarksburg woman, marking another apparent milestone for a man who has spent a decade fighting for his innocence.

In what Joseph Buffey's lawyers say is the final blow to a deeply flawed case against him, the FBI's Convicted Offender DNA Index System, known as CODIS, found the formerly unknown male who repeatedly raped the 83-year-old mother of a Clarksburg Police officer in 2001.

A judge sentenced Buffey to 70 years in prison for the robbery and rape of the woman, known in court records only as  "Ms. L".

Buffey started a long appeals battle shortly after his conviction. He has accused investigators of coercing his confession the night of the crime, lying to a Harrison County grand jury and indirectly forcing him unto an unfavorable guilty plea.

The West Virginia State Police Forensics Laboratory told Harrison County assistant prosecutor David Romano earlier this month that they had found a match to the semen samples found at the woman's home the night of the rape. Authorities have not yet released the name of the man who matched the semen samples.

Buffey's lawyers will ask Harrison Circuit Judge Thomas A. Bedell Thursday to immediately release Buffey on bond.

"Whether or not the state is yet prepared to come to grips with the fact that it has incarcerated an innocent man for the last eleven years, Mr. Buffey should not spend one more day in prison for a crime he did not commit," lawyer Sarah Wagner Montoro said in a motion to immediately release Buffey.

Romano did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, on the heels of several unsuccessful post-conviction appeals, a new DNA test taken from samples of Ms. L's rape kit revealed that the seminal fluid police found at the crime scene matched a profile unique to an unknown male profile in one of 40 billion possible Caucasian males.

The lab results, however, were compiled at an out-of-state lab, unaccredited by the FBI and ineligible for input in the CODIS databank.

Romano also speculated that the results could indicate that Buffey had an unseen accomplice the night of the rape, and that Buffey's genetic contribution to the crime was not strong enough to generate a lab hit.

Montoro said that the state has not offered actual evidence to support that theory, and pointed out that Ms. L claimed in her own statements to investigators that she suffered the assault from a single attacker.

"Even after months of negotiations between the parties and review of the data by its own experts, the state failed to identify a single flaw in the laboratory's analysis or results," Montoro said in the motion.

In April, Bedell granted a motion to enter the results into the CODIS database. On Nov. 27, after months of legal wrangling, prosecutors informed Montoro of the database hit.

Prosecutors learned of the hit from the State Police lab, and according to Montoro's motion, launched an investigation. The man, known as "John Doe" is currently serving time in a state prison. Montoro agreed not to divulge the man's identity to her client without the state' s permission or without authorization from the court, the motion states.

Montoro said that "John Doe" has a history of violence against others, including at least one instance where he was suspected of invading a home and robbing and assaulting a woman inside. The man also appears to fit the description of the man Ms. L said attacked her in 2001.

As part of the release motion, Montoro asked the judge for full permission to discuss the man's identity. If Buffey is released, he will reside in Harrison County with his mother.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.           


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