Articles & News Reports

Monfils murder defendant paroled, another to be freed Wednesday, leaving just one in prison

Paul Srubas, Green Bay Press-Gazette Published 12:56 p.m. CT July 2, 2019 | Updated 2:43 p.m. CT July 2, 2019

WAUPUN – Rey Moore, one of six men convicted in the 1992 murder of Tom Monfils in a Green Bay paper mill, was released from prison on parole Tuesday morning.

Moore, 72, was being held at the John C. Burke Correctional Center in Waupun.

Another defendant, Michael Johnson, 71, was granted parole last month and will be released from Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center in Oneida Wednesday morning, according to the state Division of Corrections.

Three other defendants have been released:

  • Michael Hirn, 54, was released on parole in December.
  • Dale Basten, 77,died in June 2018, 10 months after being paroled for health reasons.
  • Mike Piaskowski, 70, was released in 2001 after a federal judge ruled there had been insufficient evidence to convict him.

After Johnson’s release Wednesday, that will leave just one defendant, Keith Kutska, 68, imprisoned. Kutska, identified by police and prosecutors as the ringleader of the murder, is eligible for parole in May 2021.

They were convicted in 1995 in Brown County Circuit Court of conspiring to murder Monfils, 35, at the former James River Mill in Green Bay.

All of the defendants have continued to deny killing Monfils.

Monfils’ body was found in a pulp vat in the mill with a 50-pound weight tied to him. Police concluded co-workers killed him after Monfils had reported Kutska for stealing scrap wire from the mill. Kutska was suspended for three days for refusing to let mill security guards search his duffel bag. During his time off, he persuaded Green Bay police to turn over a tape recording of Monfils’ anonymous tip about the theft.

When Kutska returned to work, he played the recording for many co-workers. Police and prosecutors claim Kutska whipped up enough anti-Monfils sentiment among his co-workers that the six suspects surrounded Monfils, roughed him up, knocked him unconscious and then, fearing the loss of their jobs, dumped him into the pulp vat.

The defendants have suggested through the appeals process that either someone else did it or that Monfils had taken his own life.

Piaskowski has remained active in grassroots efforts to get the other men free. The group has been writing letters to the parole board, the governor and others. They also have helped bring lawyers from the Innocence Project on board to launch additional appeals.

The group formed shortly after publication of the book, “The Monfils Conspiracy: The Conviction of Six Innocent Men.” Piaskowski helped local authors Denis Gullickson and John Gaie on the book.

Piaskowski said today Moore’s release came as a surprise because his group had been focusing on Johnson’s impending release.

His only comment was “Whether people want to accept it or not, this case is, without a doubt, the largest miscarriage of justice in Wisconsin state history, maybe even in the entire modern day United States of America.”

Gullickson said he was elated, and he reiterated comments he made at the release of another of the defendants, Michael Hirn, in December. In that instance, Gullickson talked about the major life changes that Hirn had missed, like the loss of his mother and the graduation of his son, that happened while he was in prison.

In both cases, Gullickson said, the men are stepping into freedom “as innocent as the day (they) were arrested and as innocent as the day (they) were convicted.”

Joan Treppa, an author and wrongful-conviction activist who has befriended the Monfils defendants, spoke of the injustice the six men experienced and of how each parole is a personal victory that serves as a collective victory for all of them. Speaking of Moore, who was a longtime friend of her sister’s, Treppa said, “I cannot fathom why one of the kindest, gentlest men was labeled as a murderer and taken from his family.”

‘Monfils 6’ Exclusive: Rey Moore released from prison

By Emily Matesic, WBAY Staff | Posted: Tue 11:03 AM, Jul 02, 2019  | Updated: Wed 10:38 AM, Jul 03, 2019

WAUPUN, Wis. (WBAY) – UPDATE 7/3:

Michael Johnson was released from prison Wednesday morning.

A man convicted in one of the most notorious murder cases in Northeast Wisconsin was released from prison Tuesday morning.

Rey Moore, one of the so-called “Monfils 6”, walked out of John C. Burke Correctional Center in Waupun a free man.

In 1995, the 72-year-old was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Tom Monfils at a Green Bay paper facility. Prosecutors said Moore and five other men conspired to kill Monfils as an act of revenge.

Rey Moore served 24 years of that sentence until the parole board granted his release.

Action 2 News was the only local news organization at the prison as Moore walked out of the gates just after 8 a.m. He didn’t stop to talk to our camera crews. Instead, he loaded his belongings on a pickup truck and drove away from Waupun.

THE MONFILS 6 CASE

It was 1992 when Tom Monfils’ body was found in a pulp vat at the James River Mill in Green Bay. Investigators said Monfils had been beaten and a weight had been tied around his neck.

Three years later, police arrested suspects later dubbed the “Monfils 6.” Keith Kutska, Michael Hirn, Rey Moore, Dale Basten, Michael Piaskowski, and Michael Johnson were charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide.

The prosecution said the men conspired to kill Monfils, who had heard co-worker Keith Kutska talk about stealing an electrical cord from the mill. It is alleged that Monfils reported it to police, but his anonymity was compromised when Keith Kutska obtained a tape of the call made by Monfils.

The prosecution accused Kutska and the other men of forming a group to take revenge on Monfils for reporting on Kutska.

Another co-worker told police that Kutska had confided in him all the details of the killing of Monfils.

All six men were convicted at jury trial and sentenced to life in prison.

The trial was one of the most high-profile events in Northeast Wisconsin in the past 30 years. Over time, opinions have shifted about their guilt in the death of Tom Monfils. Supporters believe the men were wrongly convicted.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Rey Moore is the fourth of the original “Monfils 6” to be released from prison.

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.

In Dec. 2018, Michael Hirn was released from McNaughton Correctional Center in Lake Tomahawk.The 55-year-old was granted parole after 23 years in prison.

Keith Kutska has appealed his conviction up to the United States Supreme Court. In 2017, the high court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari, which is a document asking the high court to review the decision of a lower court.

Kutska, 68, had mounted his 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 Tom Monfils killed himself.

A judge ruled there was not evidence to grant Kutska a new trial. His subsequent appeal was denied. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to take the case upholds the lower court’s ruling.

Kutska is eligible for parole on May 1, 2021. That decision is up to the parole board.

Action 2 News has learned that Michael Johnson, 71, has been granted parole and will be released from prison Wednesday, July 3. We will be there to cover the release.

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.”

UPCOMING HEARINGS

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.”