Dale Basten, one of the “Monfils six,” dies at 77

Published 10:13 a.m. CT June 25, 2018 | Updated 5:37 p.m. CT June 25, 2018

Paul Srubas Green Bay Press-Gazette USA TODAY NETWORK – WISCONSIN

GREEN BAY – Dale Basten, one of six men convicted of involvement in the high-profile murder of Tom Monfils in a Green Bay paper mill in the 1990s, has died.

The state Department of Corrections on Monday confirmed Basten died Saturday.

“Our family is obviously devastated at his loss,” said Dale’s brother, Lee Basten, in an emailed comment. “Six men tried together is a daunting task for any jury. Dale is going to his grave looking for ‘Truth and Justice.’ Hopefully others will find it.”

“Dale Basten died completely at peace with the fact that he had no hand in the death of Tom Monfils,” said Green Bay writer Denis Gullickson, who co-authored a book, “The Monfils Conspiracy: The Conviction of Six Innocent Men.” Basten “insisted on his innocence from his very first interview with the Green Bay police until his own passing on Saturday, June 23,” Gullickson said.

Still, higher courts have upheld the convictions of all but one of the original six defendants, and police and prosecutors in the case maintain they got it right, that Basten and the others conspired to kill Monfils in the mill where they all worked.

Basten, 77, was released in September from prison to a privately operated community facility in Appleton because of health issues.

The Parole Commission cited Basten’s “advancing, maturing age” and his apparent cognitive decline for the move. Members of the commission had met with him previously and found that Basten had “little awareness” that he was in prison or why he was there.

He served most of the last decade at the Stanley Correctional Institution.

Basten recently underwent surgery for undisclosed health problems and had been in decline since at least 2014, according to friends of his family.

Although still in custody and under constant monitoring and supervision, Basten was the second of those convicted of conspiring to kill Monfils to make his way out of maximum security. The first was Mike Piaskowski, whose conviction was overturned by order of a federal appeals court in 2001.

Basten, along with Michael Johnson, Keith Kutska, Michael Hirn and Rey Moore, unsuccessfully appealed their convictions multiple times and in various courts through the years.

In a 2009 interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Basten echoed the other defendants’ assertions that their convictions were based on an erroneous police theory.

Prosecutors asserted Kutska instigated an attack on Monfils, 35, in the former James River papermill in November 1992 in retaliation for Monfils snitching on Kutska for a minor theft from the mill. Kutska, who served a three-day suspension from the mill for stealing a piece of extension wire, learned from a police recording that Monfils had phoned in a report of the theft.

Kutska obtained the recording and, upon his return to the mill, played it for several of his co-workers. Kutska has admitted all that but denies that he played the tape to whip up violence against Monfils or that he and the other defendants actually committed any violence against Monfils.

According to police and the prosecution’s case, the six men surrounded Monfils during a break in the papermaking process and beat him to unconsciousness. Then, out of fear of losing their jobs, they tied a weight to the unconscious man and dumped him into a paper pulp vat. Monfils’ body was recovered the next day after workers drained the vat.

Basten’s specific role was never made completely clear in the police account, but witnesses testified he was present in the paper machine control room when Kutska played the tape on the morning of Monfils’ disappearance. One witness, David Weiner, testified that he saw Basten and Johnson carrying something heavy, presumably Monfils’ body, near the pulp vat that morning.

Regarding Basten’s death, Piaskowski said, “No matter what people want to believe, the absolute truth is that Dale Basten was wrongfully accused and unfairly convicted. When Dale Basten passed away, the state of Wisconsin finished taking the life of a 100 percent innocent man.”

Basten, father of two adult daughters, divorced their mother two years after his conviction, in 1997, after 12 years of marriage. He lost his appeal of a court order that granted his ex-wife his pension money.

However, he remained on good terms with his family, who has maintained his innocence.

He attended Premontre High School for a time, and he began working for Northern paper mill, later known as James River, in 1961. He remained there for 35 years, according to Gullickson’s book, which he cowrote with Piaskowski’s former brother-in-law, John Gaie.

Prior to his arrest, Basten was interested in motorcycles, boating, fishing, snowmobiling and playing guitar, according to the book. The book sparked annual protests in front of the Brown County Courthouse on the anniversary date of the convictions. Piaskowski and members of the defendants’ families are among the group, which has reached up to about 60 people. Piaskowski, family members and others still meet regularly to discuss possible appeal strategies and promote letter-writing campaigns, especially to the state Parole Board.

Gullickson said Monday each of the defendants were offered immunity in exchange for testimony, and none took the deal.

“Except for these few last months when he was released as a geriatric burden to the state, Dale lived out the rest of his life incarcerated for a conviction unsupported by the facts,” Gullickson said. “This is just one more of the many tragedies in this case — beginning with Tom’s death. Obviously our hearts go out to all involved.”

The book also sparked a second book, Reclaiming Lives, by Joan Treppa of Minneapolis, a self-identified social justice advocate who also helped spearhead Kutska’s most recent appeal, filed by Minneapolis lawyer Steven Kaplan. The unsuccessful appeal claimed that Monfils had actually killed himself, that the medical examiner mistakenly ruled the death a homicide, and that the defendants’ previous lawyers failed to pursue the possibility of suicide as a cause of death when building defense strategies.

Kaplan declined to comment about Basten’s death. Treppa wrote in an email, “The passing of Dale Basten is as tragic as the life he was forced to live. I place blame on Brown County and the State of Wisconsin for inadvertently instigating another death as a result of this injustice!”

Posted on: July 11, 2018Jared Manninen