DNA Testing Leads to Overturned Rape Conviction for Wisconsin Man


A Wisconsin man’s 1994 rape conviction was overturned in a Winnebago County Circuit Court Wednesday based on DNA testing pointing to another man.

Wisconsin Innocence Project

client Joseph Frey was convicted of a 1991 rape based on the victim’s identification and sentenced to 102 years behind bars despite a lack of DNA linking him to the crime. New DNA tests requested by the Wisconsin Innocence Project matched convicted sex offender James E. Crawford, who committed additional sexual assaults after the 1991 crime. Crawford has since died.


The LaCrosse Tribune reported that at the hearing, Judge Daniel Bissett agreed that Frey’s conviction must be vacated “in the interest of justice.” Although the conviction was overturned, Frey will remain behind bars until prosecutors decide whether there will be a retrial.


Assistant District Attorney Adam Levin acknowledged that the new DNA test implicating Crawford who matched the description of the assailment was “significant.”

“The state will follow the evidence where it leads,” he said. And unless new evidence emerges implicating Frey, Levin said, “likely this case will be dismissed, and this defendant will go free.”

In its brief, the Wisconsin Innocence Project sites improper destruction of physical evidence and improper eyewitness identification procedures for leading to Frey’s wrongful conviction. After initial testing excluded Frey before his 1994 trials, all the physical evidence was reportedly destroyed. Simultaneous and repeated lineups with the same suspect were also shown to the witness who identified at least two other men before saying that Frey “looked similar” to her attacker.


Last month, Levin requested a Winnebago County Sheriff’s investigation that revealed Crawford may have tried to confess prior to his death in 2008.


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