Friends, family of “Monfils Six” protest at Brown County courthouse
GREEN BAY – Friends and family of the men convicted of murder in the 1992 death of Tom Monfils marched in protest for the eighth consecutive year Friday.
About 50 people gathered at the steps of the Brown County Courthouse to listen to speeches by Green Bay author Denis Gullickson, self-proclaimed justice advocate Joan Treppa and state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.
Also speaking briefly was Lee Basten, brother of Dale Basten, one of the six convicted men, who recently was released to an assisted living facility because of health reasons. Treppa spoke about Dale Basten’s declining health when she met him in prison.
Taylor spoke of reforms needed in state law to protect the rights of defendants, to provide them with a fair parole process, and to increase state payments to inmates freed upon proving their innocence.
The group then marched around the courthouse, to the Green Bay Police Department and back.
The group, inspired in part by “The Monfils Conspiracy,” a book by Gullickson and co-author John Gaie, believe six men were wrongly convicted in 1995 of Monfils’ murder in a Green Bay paper mill. One of those men, Mike Piaskowski, was released from prison in 2001 after a federal judge ruled there had been insufficient evidence to convict him. He and Gaie joined Gullickson in Friday’s event.
Monfils was 35 when he disappeared from his work station at the former James River Paper Mill in 1992. A few days later, searchers found his body in a paper pulp vat. A weight had been tied by a jump rope to his neck. Detectives and a medical examiner concluded Monfils had been beaten into unconsciousness, then deposited in the vat, where he died. Prosecutors convinced a jury that lead defendant Keith Kutska, angry that Monfils had reported him for a minor theft from the mill, whipped co-workers into a frenzy that resulted in them beating Monfils and throwing him into the vat in an effort to hide him and save their jobs.
The defendants’ lawyers at the time tried to claim someone else had committed the crime, but more recent appeals efforts by Kutska focused on the theory that Monfils could have killed himself.
Here are 10 things you may have forgotten about the case and some more recent developments:
» In 1993, when police were still trying to put together a case, Monfils’ widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the six eventual defendants, two other mill workers, the union to which they all belonged and insurers. The case settled out of court.
» Two years later, police swooped into the east side paper mill and arrested seven, not six men. That seventh man was soon released, and felony charges were filed against six: Kutska, Piaskowski, Rey Moore, Michael Hirn, Dale Basten and Michael Johnson.
» Then-District Attorney John Zakowski, now a Brown County Circuit Court Judge, successfully argued before Outagamie County Reserve Judge James Bayorgeon that all six men should be tried simultaneously. A jury brought in from Racine County heard the month-long trial. All six men, each of whom had his own defense laywer, were convicted of being party to first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison.
» All of the men have tried a variety of appeals strategies, but only Piaskowski has been successful. Piaskowski was freed in 2001 after serving six years in prison. U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Myron Gordon called the case against him “conjecture camouflaged as evidence.”
» Basten, at 76, the oldest of all six men, was released this summer to an assisted living facility because of health reasons. The others remain in different prisons around the state.
» Also this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Kutska’s case. Kutska lost appeal efforts that claimed his trial attorney and subsequent appeal lawyers relied too heavily on a medical examiner’s analysis of autopsy results. That analysis was faulty and caused police and lawyers on both sides to discount the possibility Monfils killed himself, according to Kutska’s claim.
» In 2009, Denis Gullickson and John Gaie, Piaskowski’s former brother-in-law, wrote and published “The Monfils Conspiracy: The Conviction of Six Innocent Men.” In it, the authors claim the lead investigator, former detective Randy Winkler, was overzealous and aggressive, that he bullied people into making statements that helped him and other detectives develop a faulty timeline of goings-on in the mill on the morning of Monfils’ disappearance. The state’s case rested on a confrontation between Monfils and the six defendants at a water cooler in the mill; the authors say no such confrontation happened.
» Shortly after the publishing of the book, a group formed called The Family and Friends of Six Innocent Men. They meet regularly, submit support letters for the parole board, organize the annual walk around the courthouse and share information about other innocence projects around the country.
» Zakowski, Winkler and Monfils’ widow’s lawyer all have stood by the case and stated the six men, including Piaskowski, were fairly tried and properly convicted.
» Several key people involved in the case have died. That includes federal Judge Myron Gordon, Dr. Helen Young, the medical examiner, former Brown County Coroner Genie Williams and some of the mill workers who had provided key testimony in the case.Posted on: November 13, 2017Jared Manninen