A Tall Order to Emulate…

On a recommendation from an exoneree friend, Michael Piaskowski, my husband Mike and I invited a distinguished stranger into our home in October of 2012. We were planning to attend a Benefit for Innocence in Downtown Minneapolis and it was suggested that we invite this exoneree. I looked into his case profile and found these details…

In June of 1989, a woman was kidnapped from her home, raped several times and abandoned along the side of a road in Bluff Siding, Wisconsin. Fred Saecker who was 6’3” tall and very thin with a full head of hair at the time, DID NOT fit the victim’s description of the attacker at all. However, since he was in the victim’s neighborhood around the time of the attack and (according to the summary I read) had been drinking they focused their attention on him. He was charged with burglary, second degree sexual assault and kidnapping. At trial a truck driver testified that he saw Mr. Saecker wearing a blood stained T-shirt and a forensic analyst testified that pubic hairs found on the victim’s body were “microscopically similar” to his.

Fred Saecker was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He would serve seven years of that sentence before DNA evidence would absolve him of the crime. I must clarify that last statement because of its significance. Four years into his sentence DNA proved his innocence but it took another three years for the authorities to sanction his release! Read on…

In 1993, Fred’s Mother paid for DNA testing. Although the tests concluded that he could not have possibly been the perpetrator, his request for a new trial was denied until 1996 when the District Attorney finally dismissed all charges based on this DNA evidence…  

Fred arrived at our house after a five hour drive from Wisconsin on the day of the benefit. He’s tall and thin making him mindful of hitting his head on the tops of doorways and low ceiling lights and fans in our home. He towered over both of us but his demeanor was nonintimidating. In fact, he was soft spoken and thoughtful. He expressed his gratefulness about being invited. Although Mike and I immediately grew fond of him, I also felt nervous. Not because of the accusations against him I believed were false but because I was very naïve about this whole exoneree experience and somewhat vague about the willingness of them to revisit past nightmares.

We had time to get acquainted with Fred before friends would arrive before the event. So we broached the subject of his wrongful conviction. We knew nothing other than a few details and what our friend Michael had told us about his character. Fred was open and honest about his experience despite this being our first encounter with him. I wondered how it was possible for the authorities to target him despite him not fitting the description of the real perpetreator. I also wondered how they managed to not get a sense of his true nature when it was so obvious to us. Ever since that little chat in our home, we knew that Fred would always be our friend. He has joined us on at least one other occasion and we’ve continued to stay in touch ever since.

I think in many ways, exonerees like Fred remain vulnerable to some degree, due to the lasting effects of their tragedies. They are keen when it comes to defining who is truthful and honest, but for some, the risk of being fooled by those whose intentions are tainted, is ever present. I am mindful of the mission I’ve been given and of the importance of not taking these people for granted or underestimating their emotional state. These days, I feel much more comfortable when meeting an exoneree for the first time but the humanity I feel by being in the presence of great courage and endurance, despite all odds, never goes away.

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Exonerees Koua Fong Lee, Audrey Edmunds, Fred Saecker, Damon Thibodeaux and Michael Piaskowski

Sometime ago, Fred sent me a thoughtful message stating, “Joan, you are incredible. I really mean that.” As accepting of those words as I am, from someone I admire very much, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best deserved accolades go to this gentle giant of a man who stands tall, not only in stature but in the wake of extreme misfortune.

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2 thoughts on “A Tall Order to Emulate…

  1. Joan Treppa Post author

    Hi Terry. Thank you for your kind words and your willingness to share. It is appreciated more than you could know. Fred is such an admirable guy who didn’t deserve this but still has a positive attitude about life. There are too many cases like his that do not get enough attention. I hope to change that as best I can. Thanks for helping!

    Reply

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