New trial granted for Wisconsin Innocence Project client

More than 20 years after DNA evidence excluded Joseph Frey as the contributor of DNA left behind on crime-scene evidence, new DNA testing has identified another person—a convicted sex offender—as the source of the bodily fluids left at the crime scene and implicates him as the true perpetrator of the crime.

On May 22, 2013, on the joint recommendation of the Winnebago County assistant district attorney and defense counsel, Judge Daniel Bissett vacated Frey’s 1993 conviction. The state has requested additional DNA testing to help it determine whether he will be retried for the 1991 rape. Frey is currently being held on $100,000 bond awaiting final outcome.

Tricia Bushnell, assistant clinical professor at University of Wisconsin Law School, represented Frey on behalf of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a UW Law School clinic that investigates and litigates viable claims of innocence on behalf of inmates. UW Law students played key roles in the investigation and hearing. 

Frey was convicted of the violent sexual assault of a college woman in her dorm room in 1991. Shortly after the crime, the Green Bay Police Department informed the Oshkosh Police Department that Frey had committed two sexual assaults in the Green Bay area. Based on the tip, Oshkosh police included Frey in several lineups.

Although the victim initially identified her landlord and later implicated a third suspect, she continued to compare and contrast individuals presented over the course of four lineups. She subsequently identified Frey, who was later convicted by a jury and sentenced to 102 years in prison.

“The eyewitness identification procedures used in this case have since been proven to contribute to erroneous identifications and are no longer used by most law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin,” said Keith Findley, executive director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “Wisconsin has enacted model policies and procedures to prevent precisely these sorts of suggestive lineups.” 

Last year, the Wisconsin Innocence Project called for post-conviction DNA testing of a semen-stained bed sheet that had been stored in evidence. The sheets were the sole remaining piece of evidence collected from the crime-scene; a previously collected rape kit, along with other pieces of physical evidence, had been improperly destroyed prior to trial. The sheets, when tested in 1993, excluded Frey as the contributor, but the state argued that the stains could have been left behind from consensual intercourse.

However, the new DNA evidence developed from the sheets implicated convicted sex offender James E. Crawford.

According to police reports presented at Wednesday’s hearing, Crawford was convicted in 1994 of the sexual abuse of two Oshkosh girls, which took place shortly after the 1991 assault. He was later released from prison for medical reasons and died in a nursing home in 2008. Crawford had also confessed to his mother that he had committed another assault for which he had never been charged, reports show.

Bushnell praised Assistant District Attorney Adam Levin. “The actions of the district attorney in this case emphasize his commitment to justice,” she said. “We hope that other district attorney’s offices follow his example and continue to investigate cases where new testing or analysis could reveal the true perpetrator.”

Frey was represented by UW Law students under the supervision of Bushnell. Law students investigated and litigated Frey’s case, ultimately requesting and receiving new DNA testing.

Law student Micheal Hahn spoke for Frey at the hearing, explaining the relevance of the new evidence and moving the court to vacate the conviction. Other students, including Matthew Gardner, Samantha Wood and Scott Zehr, investigated the crime and located the evidence for testing. Paisley Morris, a student in the UW School of Social Work program, also provided assistance on the case. 

Contact: Professor Tricia Bushnell, 608-263-7462,

Submitted by Jonathan Zarov on May 23, 2013

This article appears in the categories: Articles

Submit an Article