MORGANTON, WEST VIRGINIA - Joseph Lavigne, a client of the West Virginia Innocence Project at the West Virginia University College of Law, has been granted parole. He was released from Huttonsville Correctional Center on November 15 after serving 20 years in prison.
In 1997, Lavigne was convicted of one count each of sexual abuse in the first degree,
child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, and incest. The victim was his
five-year old daughter. For 20 years, she and her mother have maintained Lavigne's
No physical DNA evidence was submitted at Lavigne's trial but witnesses testified that his daughter said she was assaulted by her father. Lavigne argued that his daughter said she was assaulted by a man who looked like her father.
In 2011, then Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding reversed Lavigne’s conviction and ruled that he could be released from prison pending a new trial. The evidence included an affidavit from his daughter stating that her father had not assaulted her. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia overturned that decision, re-instating Lavigne’s sentence and returning him to prison.
The West Virginia Innocence Project accepted Lavigne’s case in 2013 and filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Southern District of West Virginia. The decision on the habeas is stayed, which allows for ongoing DNA testing. The national Innocence Project joined the case to co-represent Lavigne earlier this year.
"We believe Joe's conviction of this crime against his daughter was a miscarriage of justice," said Valena Beety , director of the West Virginia Innocence Project. "Thorough and modern DNA testing can prove his innocence and overturn his conviction."
Lavigne’s daughter was not permitted to testify at his post-conviction hearing, but she was able to speak before the West Virginia Parole Board at his hearing in September.
She told the board, “My father did not rape me. I hope that’s all that really needs said.”
In granting Lavigne's release, the West Virginia Parole Board approved his home plan, which includes where he will live and work outside of prison, and guidelines for meeting the rules for registered sex offenders. The West Virginia Innocence Project will continue to litigate for Lavigne’s conviction to be reversed, said Beety.
For now, Lavigne is going home to be with his family, including his daughter and his aging mother.
“You won’t see hardly any pictures of me in the prison with a smile. And now I can’t help but smile,” he said.
About the West Virginia Innocence Project
The West Virginia Innocence Project is a law clinic at West Virginia University staffed by third-year law students and law school faculty. It is dedicated to serving incarcerated persons in state or federal prison in West Virginia and providing free legal representation to individuals with meritorious claims of innocence. The clinic also advocates for reforms designed to avoid wrongful convictions, including improved eyewitness identification and forensic analysis. The West Virginia Innocence Project receives support from the law firm Wilson, Frame & Metheney, PLLC.
Joseph Lavigne, center, surrounded by his family and members of the West Virginia Innocence Project Law Clinic.