EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’m going to enjoy this moment’: Michael Hirn released from prison
By Sarah Thomsen, WBAY.com Staff | Posted: Tue9:04 AM, Dec 18, 2018 | Updated: Tue 8:56 PM, Dec 18, 2018
LAKE TOMAHAWK, Wis. (WBAY) – One of the men dubbed as the “Monfils 6” was released from prison Tuesday after nearly 24 years behind bars.
Michael Hirn, 54, was released from McNaughton Correctional Center in Lake Tomahawk. Hirn’s family and friends were waiting to greet him and he gave them all an embrace.
Hirn waved goodbye to the prison correctional workers and the warden and thanked them. They wished him good luck.
Action 2 News was the only local news station at the prison for the release. Hirn spoke with us for a local news exclusive to air Tuesday on Action 2 News.
“I do have legal challenges, but I think you cross those bridges as they come. I’ve got to take everything one day at a time. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to enjoy this moment, enjoy this time with my family today driving back,” Hirn tells Action 2 News. “You know, I’ve never used a cell phone so that’s going to be a big challenge for me. Things have changed since I’ve been in.”
THE MONFILS 6 CASE
In 1995, Hirn and five other men were convicted of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide for conspiring to kill co-worker Tom Monfils at a Green Bay paper mill. Monfils’ body was found weighed down in a pulp vat in 1992.
During trial, the prosecution said the men conspired to kill Monfils, who had heard one of the suspects, Keith Kutska, talk about stealing an electrical cord from the mill. It is alleged that Monfils reported it to authorities, but his anonymity was compromised when Keith Kutska obtained a tape of Monfils’ call to police.
The prosecution accused Kutska and the other men of forming a group to take revenge on Monfils.
The men came to be known as the Monfils 6. They were all convicted at jury trial. They have maintained their innocence.
“You know, wrongful convictions are hard to deal with because you have people that believe you’re guilty, and then you have your supporters that believe you are indeed innocent,” Hirn said. “And the true people that know me, know that I am innocent. So I can’t be bitter over the experience. I have to move forward. I’m not going to let this experience define who I am.”
Of the six, Kutska, Michael Johnson and Rey Moore remain behind bars.
Michael Piaskowski’s conviction was overturned by an appeals court in 2001. The court ruled that there was not enough evidence to prove his involvement.
Dale Basten was granted parole in September 2017 due to his failing health. He died at age 77 in June.
Earlier this month, a parole commission granted Michael Hirn’s request for parole. The commission called him a “model prisoner.”
A commission report said Hirn completed vocational programs and earned minimum community custody in 2015, and began working full- and part-time jobs. He’s also an animal handler providing therapy to dogs that have been traumatized.
“I’ve been working in the community, so I was leaving every day. Maybe it’s surreal in the fact that it’s… I’m free now. I can say I’m a free man and establish roots again and start working, and be a normal person, have some normalcy again,” Hirn said.
Hirn says he’s looking forward to his first Christmas with family in more than two decades.
“Put up the Christmas tree at home, things like that, things that I haven’t done for 23-24 Christmases now,” Hirn said.
He thanked people on social media who have supported him. Hirn told us he heard about comments left on the WBAY Facebook page.
“And WBAY, I heard about your Facebook page and a lot of people are very positive on it, and that’s a great thing, because the community is starting to change its mind, and that’s what should happen,”Hirn said. “They should be informed about what’s going on.”
Michael Johnson has a parole hearing in March. Rey Moore’s parole hearing is in July. Kutska’s next hearing is in 2021.
Keith Kutska mounted an appeal based on what his attorneys claimed was new evidence in the case. The defense was granted an evidentiary hearing to present an argument that Monfils killed himself.
A judge ruled there was not evidence to grant Kutska a new trial.
The United States Supreme Court denied Kutska’s petition for a writ of certiorari, which is a document asking the high court to review the decision of a lower court.
Action 2 News will post the full interview with Michael Hirn tonight.
MONFILS 6 BOOK
Joan Treppa, an author and social justice advocate, wrote the book “Reclaiming Lives” about the case. She was there for Michael Hirn’s release.
Her goal: tell both sides of the story. Treppa is convinced all six men are innocent.
“To tell the story about, we hear about Tom Monfils and his family and that’s a tragedy in itself, but the other tragedy is that six men and their families were wrongly labeled and these men were sent to prison wrongly,” Treppa says. “And so I wanted to tell their stories because they also need a voice. Because this is something that was also very tragic for them as well.”
Treppa has been in contact with the men since 2010. She visited them in prison.
“He [Hirn] has some options for jobs. And he’s always told me that he wants to help change, reform the system,” Treppa says.”Because it’s broken.”Posted on: December 19, 2018Jared Manninen