For the last two years Joseph Charles Frady, a 45-year-old District of Columbia native, has been living quietly in the Virginia countryside, working as a telephone lineman. Yesterday he was ordered to return to federal prison for a murder he committed almost 20 years ago.

Frady had served 17 years for bludgeoning a Southeast man to death in 1963, but had been free for the last 1 1/2 years after a jailhouse lawyer discovered a technicality that prompted an appeals court to overturn the conviction.

A recent Supreme Court ruling, however, upheld the original conviction and yesterday U.S. District Court Judge George L. Hart Jr., who had originally sentenced Frady to death for his crime, ordered him back to prison.

"Right now I feel pretty bad," said Frady, who has always maintained he was innocent of the slaying. "If they were going to bring me back they should never have let me out. It's going to be tough."

After he was led away by federal marshals, Frady's daughter, Cindy Colvin, 26, with whom he has been living since his release, wept and told a reporter she was too overcome to talk.

Frady was sent to the D.C. Jail and is to be transferred to the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa. It could not immediately be determined when he would be eligible for parole; Frady said he thought it was August 1984, and a corrections official familiar with his case said he thought it was March 1983.

In a telephone interview from the jail yesterday, Frady said he was not bitter about the decision, but thought it was pointless. "I've feel I've paid my price. Ain't really no sense about being bitter . . . I didn't do the crime, but I know I got to do it [the prison term]."

While free, Frady said he had been living with his daughter and her family in a five-bedroom house in Amissville in Rappahannock County, about 80 miles southwest of the District of Columbia. He worked at two jobs, he said, laying cable for the telephone company and helping his son-in-law install insulation.

"I was comfortable," Frady said yesterday. "I'm sorry I left her, but that's life. You always lose what you love."

Frady said he hadn't seen his daughter since she was 2 years old and had left with her mother following a divorce. They were reunited when Colvin sought him out in the federal prison system.

Frady was convicted of the first-degree murder of 40-year-old Thomas Bennett at the dead man's home, 1109 Savannah St. SE, on March 13, 1963. Frady and another man beat Bennett with their fists and a piano leg and stomped on him with metal-heeled boots, police and medical authorities said at the time.

The government had contended that the two men murdered Bennett in a conspiracy with a relative in order to collect the dead man's estate, but that was not proved in court.

Judge Hart sentenced Frady to death in the electric chair, but that was commuted to life by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Hart then gave each defendant a life term for the murder plus 5 to 15 years for robbing the dead man of $87.

Frady served time in a number of federal prisons for the most violent and hardened criminals, including Marion, Ill., and Atlanta.

While in prison Frady struck up a friendship with Michael (Miami Mike) Kleinbart, who was serving 32 years for shooting two U.S. Park Police officers in the District of Columbia. Kleinbart had become a well-known jailhouse lawyer, and after eight of their appeals on Frady's behalf were rejected, they succeeded in convincing the U.S. Court of Appeals that Hart had erred in his instructions to the jury. The conviction was overturned in 1980, and Frady was released on Feb. 3, 1981.

At that time Hart, who presided over the release, said in a stern voice that the crime for which Frady was convicted was "perhaps without question the most brutal murder that has ever been before this court."

Federal prosecutors appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which considered it during this term, and upheld the conviction on April 5.

Calling the crime a murder of "unspeakable brutality," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that the facts in the case, plus Frady's "utter failure" to show he acted without malice, disposed of any claim of prejudice that would justify reversing his conviction 19 years after the fact.