Judge throws out man's arson conviction

Man returns home from prison

Published On: Mar 25 2013 10:23:58 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 26 2013 11:27:00 AM CDT
Joe Awe
MADISON, Wis. -

After a judge found he was wrongly convicted, an Adams County man came home Monday as a free man.

Joe Awe, 42, had spent nearly three years in prison after a jury convicted him of setting the Marquette County pub he owned on fire to collect insurance money. Awe has always maintained he didn't do it.

Awe spent the afternoon catching up with his wife and family at his home west of Friendship, including his 2-and-a-half year old granddaughter he'd never met.

"I am never going to forget what I went through," he said, "and I'm going to cherish every moment with my family that I have."

Before Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Richard Wright's decision, Awe was going to be released in May but still faced nine years of probation. Wright granted him complete freedom by throwing out his conviction, pending a new trial.

The state Department of Justice disagrees with Wright's decision and will make its case when and if it appeals the ruling, said Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman.

"Right now, we're evaluating the Marquette County circuit court's opinion and ruling for possible appeal, in conjunction with the Marquette County District Attorney's Office," Brueck said in a statement.

In his decision, Wright said state fire experts improperly relied on a discredited method of analyzing the fire's origins. None of the state's experts could find the fire's cause, Wright said.

"There is no direct evidence of the defendant's guilt," Wright said in the decision.

Awe said he had no immediate plans other than spending time with his family.

I'm so happy to have my rights back," he said. "I can vote. I can go hunting again. I can take my grandson hunting when he gets older."