New Evidence of Innocence in Case of Joseph Buffey
The Innocence Project recently filed a petition presenting new DNA evidence that proves the innocence of Joseph Buffey, of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Buffey pled guilty of the rape and robbery of an elderly woman in 2001 after having falsely confessed to the crime. Recent DNA testing on crime scene evidence definitively excludes Buffey, yet local officials have ignored the results and have refused to enter the DNA profile into a national database to see if it can identify the true perpetrator.
One week after the rape and robbery, Buffey and two other men were arrested in connection to a string of robberies. After being questioned for nearly eight hours, Buffey confessed to the rape, then recanted minutes later. According to the petition, the lead detective presented at least four pieces of false information to the grand jury.
The Innocence Project has requested a hearing to consider the petition and seeks to vacate Buffey’s conviction. Watch a video that explains how false confessions happen, then read how the mandatory recording of confessions can reduce the risk of false confessions.
Exonerated Prisoners Testify on Solitary Confinement
Death row exoneree Anthony Graves testified last week at the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement. Graves spent 12 years in solitary confinement during the 18 years he was incarcerated in Texas prisons for a murder he didn’t commit. He testified to the horrors of his experience of extreme isolation: “Solitary confinement makes our criminal justice system criminal… It dehumanizes us all.”
The Innocence Project also submitted testimony from six of the many exonerated people who spent time in solitary confinement. Julie Rea, of Illinois, described being tormented by guards playing an audio cassette of a woman being tortured; Nick Yarris, of Pennsylvania’s death row, tells of his own suicide attempt during his 23 years in solitary confinement; and Clarence Elkins described feeling numb while being released because he had endured three months of solitary confinement just before his exoneration.
“When you’re confined with no ability to read, to exercise, to receive basic medical attention or to develop your mind, it’s just inhumane. I saw some people snap. They just lost their sanity,” said Herman Atkins in the written testimony. “As a nation, we must do better. When a government has the authority to treat people so poorly, it’s impossible to hold citizens to a higher standard.” Atkins was wrongfully imprisoned for over 11 years in California before being exonerated by DNA evidence.
Judges Order Lake County to Address Starks’ Conviction
One month after prosecutors in Lake County, Illinois, dismissed rape charges against Bennie Starks, appeals judges ordered prosecutors to address his request to dismiss a battery charge related to the same incident. Starks’ legal team expects that his battery conviction will be vacated and the charges dismissed when the case returns to the trial court.
Starks served 20 years and was freed on bond in 2006 when DNA evidence pointed toward his innocence. The Innocence Project has represented Starks since 1996, making his case one of the IP’s oldest active cases.
Why We Give: A Donor Profile
Sherry & Leo Frumkin
Director, Santa Monica Art Studios and CEO, Natpro, Inc.
Santa Monica, CA
Sherry: I met Leo because we were both involved in struggles for justice and that commitment has been at the core of our relationship from the beginning. We are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in California right now. The idea that the state would take a life has always been anathema. I am grateful for the work the Innocence Project has done, not only to free the innocent but also to expose procedures that lead to wrongful conviction. The climate has changed significantly in the last 10 years, thanks largely to the IP’s work. People are beginning to see how prevalent wrongful convictions are.
Leo: When people say they’re not opposed to the death penalty, I raise the Innocence Project and how they’ve gotten people off death row. It opens their minds a little bit more. If they ask me how they can help the Innocence Project, I tell them to make contributions. It not only supports the organization, it broadens the work.