Kutska’s Ex-wife: 2 Key Witnesses Lied (Green Bay Press-Gazette: July 8, 2015)

Paul Srubas , USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Published 11:28 a.m. CT July 8, 2015 | Updated 7:25 a.m. CT July 9, 2015


Two key witnesses in the state’s Tom Monfils murder case lied on the witness stand 20 years ago, the ex-wife of key defendant Keith Kutska testified Wednesday.

Ardis Kutska was the fifth and last witnesses to testify in the first of three days of hearings to determine if Keith Kutska will have a new trial.

Kutska, 64, and four others are serving life sentences for Monfils’ death. Monfils, 35, was found in 1992 in a pulp vat at the former James River mill with a 50-pound weight tied to his neck.

Kutska is serving his life term in Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage. He is arguing his 1995 conviction was unfair because evidence suggesting that Monfils may have committed suicide wasn’t presented at his trial in Brown County Circuit Court.

New legal team argues Monfils’ death was suicide

Part of Kutska’s conviction was based on testimony from co-worker Brian Kellner and his wife, Verna. They testified they and the Kutskas were at an Oconto County tavern in July 1994 when Kutska described Monfils’ death and a beating that preceded that death.

According to the Kellners’ testimony, Kutska got people in the bar to represent Monfils and other workers in a kind of re-enactment to demonstrate an altercation between the workers and Monfils.

Ardis Kutska testified no such role-playing took place. She said she wanted to testify to that fact at the 1995 trial but that Kutska’s lawyer, Royce Finne, declined to call her as witness, saying no one would believe her. She said she and her husband divorced shortly after his conviction.

One of five men still in prison for their involvement in the death of Tom Monfils, Keith Kutska talks from Columbia Correctional Institute in this 2009 interview. Paul Srubas | Press-Gazette Media

She described Brian Kellner, who died in March 2014, as “a nice guy, but I think he wanted people to, I don’t know, he wanted to make people like him or be important to everybody.”

Under cross examination by Brown County District Attorney David Lasee, Ardis Kutska said she couldn’t remember if she ever told any other lawyers during Keith Kutska’s appeal process that the Kellners lied.

Prosecutors at the 1995 trial argued Kutska stole a piece of electrical wire from the mill, then became angry when he learned Monfils reported the theft. Kutska allegedly incited the others to rough up Monfils, and the group conspired to dump him unconscious into the pulp vat, according to the prosecution’s case.

Kutska now argues there’s evidence to show Monfils may have committed suicide, and evidence supporting that theory wasn’t properly presented and evaluated at the trial.

On Wednesday, July 8, Kutska’s lawyers presented a forensic pathologist’s testimony to cast doubt on Kutska’s conviction.

Dr. Mary Ann Sens, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner in North Dakota, said it would have been difficult if not impossible to determine a cause of death through an autopsy on Monfils’ body, given the degree of decomposition.

“I and my colleagues felt it should have been undetermined,” she said under questioning by defense lawyer Steven Kaplan of Minneapolis.

The late Dr. Helen Young, who performed the original autopsy, concluded that Monfils’ death was unlikely to have been a suicide, according to an officer’s statement that Kaplan presented.

Sens testified that would not have been a reasonable conclusion to draw based simply on the autopsy.

She agreed with Young’s findings that Monfils was alive while in the vat, but said she could not tell what injuries might have occurred before or after he went in.

Sens said she couldn’t rule out a propeller in the vat, rather than a blow by a person, as the cause of a fracture to Monfils’ skull based on her review of Young’s autopsy file.

She also testified that she could not rule out the possibility of murder. She said she would have characterized the cause as being “undetermined.”

Medical examiners in the 1980s and 1990s believed they could differentiate among injuries caused before, during and after death, but they are less sure today, Sens said.

Defense lawyers called two of Kutska’s previous lawyers, Finne, from the original trial, and James Connell, from the appeals process. Both testified they took Helen Young’s findings as unassailable and built defense arguments with the understanding that Monfils was murdered.

Rally held for men convicted in 1992 Monfils murder

Defense lawyers also called Madison lawyer Stephen Glynn as an expert witness. Glynn testified that any lawyer who failed to get an expert forensic pathologist to review Young’s findings was deficient.

Special prosecutor Larry Lasee, who was co-prosecutor in the original trial, asked whether that deficiency label must therefore be applied to the nearly 20 lawyers who represented all of the defendants at the trial and all subsequent appeals over the last 20 years.

In addition to Kutska, Michael Hirn, 55, Dale Basten, 74, Michael Johnson, 67, Rey Moore, 68, and Michael Piaskowski, 66, were convicted in a single trial of conspiring to murder Monfils.

Piaskowski was released from prison in 2001 when a federal appeals judge ruled there was insufficient evidence against him.

Glynn said he hadn’t reviewed the work of all the lawyers in the case, but “from the standpoint that I’m aware of that no trial lawyer sought help from an expert pathologist, my judgment is that would make them deficient.”

Retired Outagamie County Judge James Bayorgeon, who heard the original case, is presiding over Kutska’s hearing, which is expected to run through Friday. The hearing will resume for a day on July 22 to accommodate the schedule of retired detective Randy Winkler, who was unavailable to testify this week.

Monfils case timeline

  • Nov. 10, 1992 — Mill worker Tom Monfils, 35, calls police to report that a co-worker, Keith Kutska, had stolen an extension cord from the mill
  • Nov. 20, 1992 — Kutska obtains a tape recording of Monfils’ call to police.
  • Nov. 21, 1992 — Kuska plays the tape for co-workers. Monfils disappears.
  • Nov. 22, 1992 — Monfils’ body is found at the bottom of a pulp vat with a 50-pound weight tied to his neck.
  • May 26, 1993 — Monfils’ widow files a wrongful death lawsuit against eight of Monfils’ former co-workers, the paper mill union and insurers.
  • April 12, 1995 — Police arrest the eight men at the mill. Six are charged with conspiring to murder Monfils; the other two eventually are convicted of related misdemeanors, including harassment.
  • Sept. 26, 1995 — Trial for the six defendants begins.
  • Oct. 28, 1995 — A jury brought in from Racine County returns verdicts of guilty on all six.
  • January 2001 — Federal Judge Myron Gordon rules that evidence was insufficient to convict one of the six, Mike Piaskowski. Various kinds of appeals by the other defendants are unsuccessful, and all have lost bids for early parole.
  • April 3, 2001 — Piaskowski is freed.
  • October 2014 — Kutska files for post-conviction relief, claiming new information suggests Monfils could have committed suicide and that option wasn’t properly considered at the trial.
Posted on: February 15, 2017Jared Manninen

8 thoughts on “Kutska’s Ex-wife: 2 Key Witnesses Lied (Green Bay Press-Gazette: July 8, 2015)

  1. Outrageous that the investigator relied on a story told about a reenactment told by a wasted guy..Didn’t his (kilner’s) wife even said that her husband lied… Isn’t it possible that drink Kutksa was saying how he thinks it could have happened… and Killner misunderstood. WHo else was in the bar? Was there a videotape in the bar? Aren’t there any videotapes/camera at the papermill? What about the MH issues of the victim… First, not that he should not rat a thief out..pretty petty and extreme to call 9911 for an electrical wire.. bit extreme.. Bringing in newspaper clips with commentary about co worker.. seem s like he already had established himself as a person with questionable judgement and mh problems.
    What about victim’s wife’s mentioning of the suicide ideation at the family table. This trial reeks of shoddy police work, poor legal rep… not to mention the sleeping jurors. Lastly, a witness that has killed his own brother in cold blood over a stupid argument.. is certainly not someone to trust.
    His wife civilly sued the defendant .. knowing that he may have committed suicide?

    1. Yeah, this case was a sham from the get-go. There were so many inaccuracies and unproven theories surrounding it that it should’ve never even went to trial. I firmly believe that all evidence points to suicide. Unfortunately, since there’s very little physical evidence and no actual witnesses to a “beating” or a “murder,” DNA analysis nor eye witness testimony will not help exonerate the remaining men in prison. The 2015 evidentiary trial for Keith Kutska (that acknowledged and argued for the Tom Monfils suicide angle) should’ve opened the door to new trials for all of the men. Too bad the judge that presided over that evidentiary hearing was the same judge from the original trial. It sounded like he had no real interest in revisiting this case and shut it down with his judgment of not allowing for a new trial. But the lawyers working in defense of the wrongfully convicted men are persistent and continuing to fight for their freedom.

  2. No-one would ever commit suicide by tying a weight around their neck and jumping into a paper vat. Thats a good point about the knot type tho because now the investigators can check into which of the men knew how to also tie it.
    Still wont show who exactly pushed Him in and which guys just stood around and watched it happen unfortunatly.
    Bullies usually cover for each others bad behavior, and thats what i feel happened in this case. Nobody wanted to tell the truth about what happened so they were all punished as a group.

    1. Although suicide by drowning is not nearly as common as the use of firearms, hanging, or poisoning, it does occur. And often in those suicide by drowning cases people fix heavy objects to themselves in order to counteract their natural instinct to come up for air. Tom Monfils was known among his co-workers at the paper mill to describe the various suicide victims that he helped recover while serving in the Coast Guard (and the objects they used to weigh themselves down).

      The two half hitch knot that was tied around his neck (and to the weight) is a common knot used to moor boats (i.e. what he used in the Coast Guard). Tom’s brother even stated in the original investigation that the knot found on Tom was something his brother used to tie (but was ultimately dismissed by investigator Randy Winkler because suicide did not support the prosecution’s case of murder).

      As far as the bullying goes, none of the men deny that Keith Kutska confronted Tom Monfil’s with an audio recording of Tom’s phone call to the police (re: the stolen cord). However, there was never any evidence of a physical altercation (no blood, no bruised knuckles on any of the men who were ultimately convicted, and no witnesses to an altercation) between the “Monfils 6” and Tom Monfils. The six men were co-workers. They were not friends who spent time together outside of work. There’s absolutely no logical reason why six random people would conspire to commit murder at their place of work. Furthermore, there’s no logical reason why a random co-worker would continue, after serving 20+ years in prison, to remain silent about their “conspirator.” Members of gangs and the mafia wouldn’t even remain silent for that long. Simply put, Tom Monfils commit suicide and the six men convicted in his death were wrongfully convicted.

    2. The natural instinct of a person accused of a crime who only observed it would be to save himself by cutting a deal with the prosecutors. Maybe the family members might stick together, but these guys barely knew each other and even worked in different areas in the factory. No doubt in my mind, with no evidence, no witnesses, no one of credibility ever stepping forward to corroborate the prosecution’s story, that these men were innocent of murder.

      1. Agreed. No evidence should equal no conviction. No evidence equals reasonable doubt, so how the jury came up with a murder conviction for all six men is ridiculous, lazy, and absolutely terrifying (if you find yourself being judged by a group of people so gullible and incapable of being critical thinkers).

    3. None of us, unless we ourselves have attempted suicide, can ever know the mind of a person intent on doing so. We tend to want to label suicide as a rational act when it is not. An important element that was not explored but should have been during the investigation into Monfils death, was doing a psychological evaluation on Monfils. This is standard procedure in a situation like this one when you have no evidence of foul play i.e., no blood or eyewitnesses, and many of the mill workers telling the authorities that they believe Monfils committed suicide. What folks in the community do not know is that when the detective sent the rope and weight to the crime lab for analysis, they recommended he send them to the Coast Guard for identification because of the type of knots. The detective never followed through with that directive. He instead chose to lie to Monfils younger brother, Cal (who identified the knots from a photo stating “those are knots my brother ties.”). He proceeded to tell Cal that they’ve covered those bases and found no reason to believe that Monfils had tied those knots. As per your statement about being able to check which of the men knew how to tie this specific knot, THIS WAS DONE, and none of them were able to tie it. But anyone can rationalize this away by saying that they simply refused to tie it in an effort to not look guilty. As per your statement about the guys standing around watching, no one witnessed them standing around, beating Monfils, or any other act in what was a very visible and well-traveled area. And where was all the blood? Coroner’s report says Monfils “bled profusely” from a skull fracture. It was impossible to simply mop it up as the prosecutor claimed Kutska did. Luminol testing picks up the slightest amount of chemical compounds even after a surface has been cleaned, especially on a very porous surface such as cement floor. In essence, there was nothing for these men to cover up. From my standpoint, and if your looking for a cover up, it most certainly began with a corrupt detective hired to conduct an illegal investigation for an overzealous prosecutor who was up for re-election. By the way, you probably are not aware of a 26-page document filed against Det. Winkler that was put together by the same police dept. that hired him. It’s purpose was to alleviate Winkler’s bad behavior after he solved these murders. To this day, he has conformed to the depts. wishes of defending the merits of these convictions. His reward is his comfortable lifestyle via taxpayer dollars.

  3. On November 21, Mr. Wiener was working near the vat where the victim was found. He told police that he saw nothing on that day. He testified to that effect in March 1993, but in May of that year, Mr. Wiener claimed to have a sudden recovered memory in which he saw Mssrs. Basten and Johnson carrying something heavy toward the vat on the day in question. He could not see what they were carrying because a machine blocked his view. At the time of his trial testimony in 1995, he was serving a prison sentence for killing his brother. A handwriting expert testifying for the prosecution identified Mr. Wiener as the probable author of a fake suicide note, purportedly written by Mr. Monfils; the same expert excluded the six defendants as possible authors.

    “he saw Mssrs. Basten and Johnson carrying something heavy toward the vat on the day in question. He could not see what they were carrying because a machine blocked his view.”

    This statement reminds me of those blurry pics people post to try to make you believe something that is not true. He could see they were carrying something heavy and who was carrying but not what they were carrying??? As church lady would say “how convenient”!

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