Joseph Frey, who spent eight years in prison for a rape he did not commit, will receive the full $25,000 compensation allowed for those wrongfully convicted, the state Claims Board said Tuesday.
The five-member board rejected arguments by the Winnebago County District Attorney’s Office that Frey could still have been involved in the 1991 sexual assault of a UW-Oshkosh student at knifepoint, even though testing found a convicted sex offender’s DNA profile on the victim’s bedsheet.
That man, James Crawford, had been trying to confess to a rape for which another man had been charged prior to his death in 2008, his mother told a Winnebago County Sheriff’s detective. After the UW-Oshkosh student was raped, Crawford went on to sexually assault two young sisters, ages 12 and 13.
Frey, 54, was sentenced to 102 years for the Oshkosh crime. He was released in July after a Winnebago County Circuit Court clerk found the scrap of physical evidence that led to Frey’s overturned conviction.
The board found that Oshkosh Police had “inappropriately destroyed” all of the other physical evidence before Frey’s trial, including the rape-kit exam, pubic hairs, the victim’s clothing and part of the bedsheet with a semen stain.
It declared that “the evidence is clear and convincing that the petitioner was innocent of the crime for which he suffered imprisonment.”
Frey had completed his sentence for a Brown County sexual assault and remained in prison on the Oshkosh case for eight additional years. State law allows the wrongfully convicted to be compensated $5,000 for each year of imprisonment, for a maximum of $25,000.
Frey, who was aided in his successful appeal by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, now lives in Madison. He could not be reached for comment.
Innocence Project co-director Keith Findley said his group is “pleased and grateful” for the recognition of Frey’s innocence and awarding of compensation.
But Findley said Frey’s case “serves as a reminder of the woefully inadequate compensation package presently available under Wisconsin law” which he described as “miserly .”
“Twenty-five thousand dollars comes nowhere close to correcting the injustice done to Mr. Frey, or to fulfilling our community’s obligation to help him get his life started again,” he said.
Findley noted that bills to boost the compensation to $50,000 a year — common among states that offer such payments — and offer services to the wrongfully convicted garnered wide bipartisan support in the state Legislature this year but failed to advance to a vote.
He said the prosecutor’s response — that somehow Frey might have been involved in the crime despite clear evidence to the contrary — “highlights the challenges that innocent people face in regaining their lives.”
“All too often, the system is so resistant to recognizing error that it goes to great lengths to imagine scenarios — some quite fanciful — that might justify the conviction or lingering doubts about innocence,” Findley said. “Fortunately, the Claims Board recognized the new DNA and other evidence in this case for what it was — powerful affirmative proof of actual innocence.”