On November 22, 1992, Tom Monfils was found dead at the bottom of a pulp vat at the James River paper mill in Green Bay, WI. Referred to as the “Monfils Six,” co-workers Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Michael Johnson, Rey Moore, Keith Kutska, and Michael Piaskowski were handed life sentence convictions on October 28, 1995, for the murder of Monfils. The convictions were the culmination of three years’ worth of coercive police interrogation and investigation techniques, dubious prosecutorial tactics, and ineffectual juror participation. The sad irony about the case is that the most probable cause of Monfils’ death is suicide.
On November 10, 1992, Monfils had made a call to the Green Bay Police Department (GBPD) to report that Keith Kutska was going to steal scrap wire from the mill. Kutska was suspended from work for a week as a result. On November 20, Kutska procured the cassette tape recording of Monfils’ call from the GBPD. Keith returned to work on November 21 and confronted Monfils with the tape and obtained Monfils’ admission that he had reported Kutska to the police. Monfils went missing soon after and was found the next day in the pulp vat.
The GBPD assumed Kutska was the culprit from the start. In fact, during the videotaping of the crime scene an officer’s voice is heard off-camera saying, “Way to go, Kutska!” From that point forward, the entire investigation centered on Kutska. The GBPD tried many times to hook the body and hoist it from the vat before finally removing it through an access portal near the bottom of the vat. The GBPD also neglected to cordon off the area with crime tape allowing officers and mill workers alike to trample through the area all day long. To the frustration of the GBPD, the Monfils’ investigation went nowhere for a year. No one had any useful information and everyone’s testimony supported their own innocence.
Things changed on January 4, 1994 when Randy Winkler became the lead, and effectively only, detective on the case. His 21-month investigation in which he claims to have conducted around 500 interviews produced dubious results and “witness” statements. One such statement included Brian Kellner’s “witnessing” of a re-enactment by Keith Kutska at the Fox Den Bar of the supposed beating of Tom Monfils. However, there was never any physical evidence found at the paper mill crime scene such as blood, blood residue, bloody knuckles on the “attackers,” or any instrument that was supposedly used to bludgeon Tom Monfils.
The Monfils Six were arrested in April of 1995 and their trial began in September. District Attorney (DA) John Zakowski was permitted to try all six men together. Zakowski also established low expectations regarding the case. Assistant DA Larry Lasee opened the trial by telling the jury, “If details are extremely important to you, you’re going to be disappointed. There are gaps.” Zakowski also relied on the false testimony of a “jailhouse snitch” and David Weiner, a co-worker of Monfils. Weiner was looking to cut a deal because, at the time of the Monfils trial, he was in prison for reckless homicide in the killing of his own brother.
Of the 16 member jury, only one of them had any education beyond high school. One juror admitted she couldn’t tell the defendants apart after two weeks, and other jurors were reportedly seen catnapping during the trial. At the time of Michael Piaskowski’s exoneration in 2001, “a total of five federal judges had essentially graded this jury as ‘unreasonable’ and irrational’ and charged it with failing its duty.” This is evidenced in a 2007 statement by a Monfils juror who stated, “It is too much to process and too easy to just make the same decision for [all] of the defendants.”
Monfils’ co-workers didn’t hate him or think he was mean-spirited, but they did believe he had psychological problems. For example, when co-workers got arrested for DUIs, Tom would post the news clippings about them at work, complete with his color commentary written in the margins. Once, he posted a news article along with his hurtful comments about the miraculous birth of a co-worker’s premature baby. This behavior, coupled with the facts that he was under enormous stress and that he used to frequently tell co-workers about the many drowned suicide victims he had recovered while serving in the Coast Guard, suggests that he may have been willing to take his own life on the morning of November 21, 1992.
There are countless problems and inconsistencies in the state’s case against the Monfils Six, but the most appalling injustice is that these men never received anything resembling a fair trial. None of their attorneys had previously worked on a capital (murder) case. The attorneys were not permitted to pursue lines of questioning that their fellow attorneys had begun if there was any potential in overlapping. Essentially DA Zakowski implemented the joint-trial under the guise of saving money and time. The reality was he had no case if he couldn’t treat them as one entity. Since there were no witnesses or any actual evidence (the state based their case on circumstantial evidence and hearsay) against the six men, their attorneys assumed the case was going to be dropped. As a result, rather than collaborating during the joint-trial, each attorney attempted to place distance between their clients and the other five men.
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To this day, not one of the Monfils Six has ever admitted to having anything to do with Tom Monfils’ death. These former blue collar mill workers had no prior convictions for any violent acts and several of them knew each other only by face. Nonetheless, they have refused repeatedly to implicate either themselves or any of the others, even rejecting sweetheart plea deals in the process of asserting their innocence. This is unprecedented. Research any trial involving professional mobsters and gangsters, guys whose business it is to keep secrets, and you’ll always find someone willing to cut a deal. But not here because there’s nothing to say; these six men are innocent.