Rape, assault case needs to be investigated

An editorial from The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va. — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has spared himself and some law enforcement officials in Harrison County a tongue-lashing by U.S. Supreme Court justices. Now, it remains for Mountain State residents to ask how a man could have been sent to prison though police and prosecutors had evidence he was innocent.

Morrisey announced this week he would not appeal a decision of the state Supreme Court to the federal appeals bench. That was wise because of the case itself.

Late last year, West Virginia high court justices ordered Joseph Buffey be allowed to withdraw a guilty plea he made in a 2001 sexual assault and robbery case. Presumably, Buffey will be freed from prison, where he already has served more than 13 years of a 70-year sentence.

Certainly, the crimes for which he was imprisoned were heinous: On the night of Nov. 30, 2001, an 83-year-old widow in Clarksburg was robbed, then sexually assaulted repeatedly in her home. Buffey, 19 at the time, was questioned about it by police after being arrested in three unrelated breaking-and-entering cases.

Buffey denied any involvement in the rape and robbery. But he was offered a deal: Plead guilty to the robbery and assault and the B&E charges would be dropped. He was given a very short amount of time to consider, then accepted. He pleaded guilty and was sent to prison.

What neither Buffey nor his attorney knew was that DNA testing had established he could not have been responsible for the rape. Prosecutors withheld that evidence.

Of course, West Virginia justices were right to throw out Buffey’s guilty plea. U.S. Supreme Court justices would have done the same thing, had Morrisey appealed.

How could the intentional miscarriage of justice – which quite possibly could cost Harrison County taxpayers a lot of money if Buffey files a lawsuit – have occurred? That sort of thing is unacceptable in West Virginia. At least, most people probably thought it was.

Morrisey’s office or some other appropriate authority ought to be investigating how it happened and whether anyone can be held accountable.

If the thought of what was done to Buffey is not upsetting enough, consider this: Someone raped the 83-year-old woman – and was allowed to get away with it because the authorities decided to pin the crime on Buffey.

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