Winnebago County (Wisconsin), Circuit Court Judge Daniel Bissett has overturned the 1994 rape conviction of Joseph Frey, who has been serving a 102-year sentence for the crime, which involved the rape at gunpoint of a University of Wisconsin student in her apartment. According to a Wisconsin State Journal report (here), the judge said Frey’s “conviction must be vacated ‘in the interest of justice.’” Frey remains in jail as prosecutors decide whether or not to retry him.
Much of the crime scene evidence was destroyed by an Oshkosh Police detective before Frey’s trial. He was convicted on a hesitant identification by the victim after a very suggestive “in-person” lineup procedure and testimony from a jailhouse informant, even though DNA from the scene did not match Frey and he has claimed innocence for twenty years. According to the District Attorney’s office, Frey had been the subject of prior sexual assault charges.
The Wisconsin Innocence Project requested new testing of DNA left in the victim’s bed sheets. The new testing matched James E. Crawford, a man who later “sexually assaulted two sisters, ages 12 and 13, in Fond du Lac,” a repeated crime for which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has passed away.
Assistant District Attorney Adam Levin said the new evidence is “not significantly different” from what the jury considered in its verdict, but he did acknowledge that the fact that the new DNA testing linked to Crawford was “a significant fact the jury didn’t know.”
The article notes that Crawford’s mother said she believed that her son tried to confess to the rape as he approached his own death from heart problems and multiple sclerosis.
This story was also covered by Gannett (here).
The red flags of wrongful conviction in this case are non-matching DNA, a flawed eyewitness procedure and compromised identification, the use of a jailhouse snitch, and destruction of the evidence even before trial. Hopefully, twenty years later the District Attorney’s Office will provide delayed leadership in seeking the truth in this case.