Four Months after Exoneration, Wisconsin Man Seeks True Freedom


It has been four months since Joseph Frey was exonerated of a rape he didn’t commit, but he is still searching for his freedom. Frey spent eight years behind bars before a judge vacated his conviction after DNA evidence identified the real perpetrator, and another four months locked up before the prosecution decided to drop the case.


WITI-Fox Milwaukee reported that although Frey is no longer behind bars, his current life — living in a shelter and trying to bring awareness to cases like his — is a daily struggle. “ ‘I have nothing. That’s not true. I have me — and my determination, and my tenacity,’ Frey said.”


Three years after a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh student was raped in her apartment, the case was still unsolved, even though the victim identified her landlord as the assailant. As pressure mounted to close the case, Frey was included in a photo array that the victim looked through because he had previously been implicated in similar sexual assaults. He was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to 102 years in prison. “ ‘I had to learn law as best I could on my own. By no means am I a Perry Mason or anything like that … I was just fighting for my life.’ ” Frey told WITI-Fox Milwaukee.


After several denied appeals, Frey finally got help from the

Wisconsin Innocence Project

, who ultimately uncovered a scrap of evidence to be tested for DNA. The results excluded Frey and matched a known sex offender, James Crawford, who went on to commit additional assaults after the rape of the UW-Oshkosh student.


Frey left prison with serious health conditions and without health insurance. Freed yet depressed, he considered taking his own life.


In the interview, Frey said that he spends nights in a shelter and carries his belongings with him in a duffel bag during the daytime. “ ‘[The bed is] about three inches thick, but it’s on spring supports, unlike prison, which is on a solid piece of steel. When you have 40 plus grown men down here, it’s loud, it’s noisy, it smells… It’s not the Ritz Carlton.’ ”


Knowing that getting a conviction vacated is only the beginning, Frey wants to advocate for change beginning with compensation for the wrongly convicted. Wisconsin’s compensation law ranks among the worst of these laws, providing a maximum of $25,000 regardless of the term of wrongful imprisonment.


State Rep. Gary Hebl (D – Sun Prairie) has written a bill that would increase compensation and eliminate the cap.


Frey says he is determined to bring awareness to the pitfalls in the justice system. “ ‘It’s not just me. There are many other people. We’ve got to address this.’ ”


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