Articles & News Reports

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

Kutska’s ex-wife: 2 key witnesses lied

http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/news/local/2015/07/08/expert-cause-tom-monfils-death-unclear/29862945/

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.

How a Minnesota Woman Found Peace Crusading for 6 Murder Convicts (FOX 9: April 26, 2015)

A FOX9.com (Minneapolis) feature about the Monfils’ Case and Joan Treppa, the citizen advocate who has been working on it for the past six years.

How a Minnesota woman found peace crusading for 6 murder convicts

POSTED:APR 26 2015 09:07PM CDT

UPDATED:APR 26 2015 09:47PM CDT

http://www.fox9.com/archive/1826477-story (There is a 10 minute video at the FOX 9 link)

This is the story of how the incarceration of 6 Wisconsin men brought freedom to a Blaine, Minn. woman named Joan Treppa.

More than two decades ago at the James River Paper Mill in Green Bay, a mill worker named Tom Monfils was found at the bottom of a vat, a jump rope tied around his neck and to a weight. Several days earlier, Monfils had called the police warning them that a coworker named Keith Kutska might retaliate if he found out about a 911 call he made.

This is the story of how the incarceration of 6 Wisconsin men brought freedom to a Blaine, Minn. woman named Joan Treppa.

More than two decades ago at the James River Paper Mill in Green Bay, a mill worker named Tom Monfils was found at the bottom of a vat, a jump rope tied around his neck and to a weight. Several days earlier, Monfils had called the police warning them that a coworker named Keith Kutska might retaliate if he found out about a 911 call he made.

In 2009, authors Denis Gullickson and John Gaie published “The Monfils Conspiracy,” arguing all 6 workers were innocent. This is where Treppa comes into the story. She started writing to the men. She even found Johnny Johnson, a retired investigator, who had just bought a motorhome with the intention of traveling the country. Instead, he’d travel to Green Bay and re-interview witnesses and gather evidence.

“There was merit in everything she said, and coupled with her ability to carry it emotionally, I was touched. I was convinced. I was convinced she knew something that she didn’t really know yet,” Johnson said.

Treppa wasn’t done. She convinced the Minneapolis firm Fredrikson and Byron to help. Attorney Steve Kaplan filed a 152-page brief arguing for Kutska to get a new trial. There were plenty of documents in his office and in Piaskowski’s basement. The brief’s main arguments are that the bruises and cuts on Monfils’ body came from the blades in the vat — not from any attack – and that the key witness recanted and Kutska’s alleged confession was fictitious. In addition, the brief claimed there were problems with the lead detective’s interrogations and the timeline. Most importantly, the brief claimed it was a suicide.

The brief brings up something never mentioned in the trial: Monfils was suicidal, mortified by his 911 call, and even left behind notes, an argument supported by Monfils’ own brother. Lawyers argue that Monfils was fascinated with drowning since his Coast Guard days where he learned to tie the knot found around his neck.

The state’s reply calls the brief “entertaining, arguably compelling” that “reads more like a well-written work of fiction,” which is a reminder that the future for these five men is still uncertain. As for the past, just a few years ago, before Treppa took up this cause, she was shy and afraid, lost in the mix as one of 13 siblings. Now, she only just realized why the 6 strangers in Green Bay were no strangers at all.

“Realistically, I could relate to people who’d been wrongfully convicted because those are the same characteristics they have. They feel lost in the mix, they feel left out, they feel forgotten,” Treppa said.

Now, thanks to the crusade, she found a new feeling: Hope, because there is one little girl who is now free.

Kutska Granted Hearing in Monfils’ Murder (FOX 11: April 15, 2015)

Kutska granted hearing in Monfils’ murder

http://fox11online.com/archive/kutska-granted-hearing-in-monfils-murder

Keith Kutska will get another chance to argue for a new trial in connection with his conviction for the 1992 murder of Tom Monfils, a judge decided.

Kutska is one of six men who were convicted of killing Monfils at the then-James River paper mill. All but Mike Piaskowski, whose conviction was overturned by a federal judge, are serving life prison terms.

Last fall, Kutska’s lawyers filed a 145-page motion, arguing Monfils wasn’t murdered but actually killed himself. Prosecutors disagree and maintain the six killed him. His body was found at the bottom of a pulp vat, with a rope & weight tied to him.

Retired Outagamie County Judge James Bayorgeon, who is still handling the case, has granted a hearing, said attorney John Bradley.

The hearing is scheduled to last three days, starting July 8.

Kutska’s previous appeals were denied.

Just last week, the state Parole Commission denied Kutska’s first parole request. It said he needed to spend more time in prison. Judge Bayorgeon wrote a letter to the parole board, recommending Kutska be released as soon as possible.

To date, parole requests have been denied for the other four: Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Michael Johnson and Rey Moore. They remain incarcerated.