BY FOX 11 NEWS WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15TH 2015
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.
By Sarah Thomsen Published: April 15, 2015, 11:43 am Updated: April 16, 2015, 6:36 am
A retired judge is granting a new hearing for one of the men sentenced to life in prison for the high-profile murder of Green Bay paperworker Tom Monfils.
Keith Kutska and 5 others were convicted and given life sentences for conspiring in Monfils’s death at the James River paper mill in 1992.
Co-defendant Mike Piaskowski’s conviction was later overturned. Kutska is hoping for the same outcome.
Now his attorneys say that’s one step closer to happening.
Action 2 News spoke with attorneys on both sides Wednesday morning, shortly after the judge made the decision to grant an evidentiary hearing. Neither side is surprised they’ll be back in court again.
The Minnesota Innocence Project took on Kutska’s case last year and asked for a new trial.
He’s not getting that right now, but this evidentiary hearing is a chance to argue a new theory for how Monfils died.
In the hundreds of pages of motions and affidavits filed by both Kutska’s lawyers and the Brown County District Attorney’s office in the last seven months, the big argument is suicide versus homicide.
There are statements from experts and even Monfils’s brother Cal believing Tom committed suicide, “had a strange fascination with death and drowning” and that testimony used to convince jurors of murder was “complete fiction.”
At trial, prosecutors argued the mill workers formed an angry mob, viciously beat Monfils for turning in a co-worker for stealing from the mill, then threw his body in a pulp vat with a rope and weight tied around his neck.
The D.A.’s office stands by that to this day, calling it a “sensational and unsupported theory of suicide.”
But by granting an evidentiary hearing, the judge who presided over the lengthy 1995 trial, James Bayorgeon, says there’s reason to argue the suicide theory in court and put witnesses on the stand.
Bayorgeon will again preside over the hearing in July, then decide if Kutska deserves a new trial.
That hearing is scheduled to begin July 8 at the Brown County Courthouse and is scheduled to last three days.
Just a week ago, when the parole commission denied Kutska’s first request for release, we learned that is a letter of support on file from the judge staying “I believe Mr. Kutska should be granted parole at the earliest possible date.”
None of the attorneys involved wanted to officially comment on the case Wednesday.
Paul Srubas, USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinPublished 12:36 p.m. CT April 9, 2015 | Updated 6:04 a.m. CT April 10, 2015
A Green Bay Press-Gazette article about Keith Kutska’s parole denial in spite of Judge James Bayorgeon’s urging that Kutska be granted “parole at the earliest possible date.” Judge James Bayorgeon was the judge that originally presided over his case.
Despite having a letter from the sentencing judge recommending “parole at the earliest possible date,” Keith Kutska will remain imprisoned for at least three more years for the murder of Green Bay mill worker Tom Monfils.
The parole commission this week denied Kutska’s request for parole and deferred further consideration for three years.
Monfils, 35, died in November 1992. His body was found in a paper pulp vat at was then was the James River Corp. paper mill. A weight had been tied around his neck.
Kutska, 64, has been in prison about 19 years and three months on a conviction of conspiracy to commit murder. Although other defendants in the case have had multiple parole hearings, this was Kutska’s first.
Reserve Judge James Bayorgeon, who presided over the six defendants’ joint trial in 1995, submitted a letter to the parole board staying, “I believe Mr. Kutska should be granted parole at the earliest possible date,” according to the parole board.
The parole commission said, however, it was denying parole based on Kutska’s unsatisfactory participation in prison programming, and that release would pose “an unreasonable risk to the public,” and that he had not served sufficient time for punishment.
“During your parole interview last month, you were asked multiple questions about your role in the crime and repeatedly responded that you were not going to answer the questions,” the parole board wrote, although it acknowledged that Kutska’s reluctance to talk could have been based on the fact that he has an appeal underway in the case.
The board also quoted Kutska as saying police framed him because he had hurt their pride, a comment Kutska has made previously to Press-Gazette Media.
Police and prosecutors claim that Kutska and others physically confronted Monfils at the mill because Monfils reported Kutska had stolen a few feet of electrical cord from the mill.
Kutska was suspended for five days for refusing to allow mill security to inspect his bag, and Kutska used the time to obtain a tape recording of Monfils’ call to police. When Kutska returned to work, he played the recording for co-workers.
Kutska has claimed he obtained the recording to take union action against his informant and played it for others and for Monfils to confirm it was him on the recording.
Police and prosecutors say Kutska incited his co-workers into beating Monfils, after which they threw his unconscious into a pulp vat, where his body was found the next day.
All six men were convicted after a lengthy trial in 1995, but one of the co-defendants, Michael Piaskowski, was freed after a short time in prison when a higher court ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict him. The others convicted were Michael Hirn, Michael Johnson, Rey Moore and Dale Basten, all of whom have upcoming parole hearings.
The other defendants have claimed in unsuccessful appeals, in part, that if all six were acting in consort as police and prosecutors claim, Piaskowski’s overturned conviction should mean they all are innocent.
Kutska told the parole board that Monfils’ brother recently provided an affidavit that Tom Monfils had left a suicide note with his wife.
Keith Kutska has been granted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether or not he will receive an entirely new trial for which he was convicted of conspiring to murder Tom Monfils. Here is a Green Bay Press Gazette article about the update.
Just days after getting bad news from the parole board, Keith Kutska, one of six men convicted in 1995 of a paper mill murder, will get a chance to argue for a new trial.
Kuska, 64, claims he should get a new trial because the possibility that the victim, Tom Monfils, could have committed suicide wasn’t sufficiently argued at the trial.
Monfils’ body was found in 1992 in a paper vat at the former James River Mill. He had a 50-pound weight tied around his neck.
Kutska’s new lawyers, who are working with the Minnesota Innocence Project, claim they have information that Monfils’ widow initially told family members she thought Monfils had committed suicide. That information was never shared with the defendants, their lawyers or the jury, the new lawyers claim.
They also claim Monfils was depressed about a troubled marriage and from realizing he was on the outs with Kutska and other co-workers for reporting that Kutska had stolen electrical wire from the mill.
They also claim lawyers at the time of the trial mistakenly accepted a pathologist’s assertion that bruises on Monfils’ body were indisputable proof he was injured before he went into the vat. Such bruises can be developed posthumously, the new lawyers claim.
Retired Judge James Bayorgeon, who heard the case in 1995, has agreed to an evidentiary hearing at which the lawyers can present and develop their arguments.
Arguments heard in new fight over Monfils conviction
Paul Srubas , USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin 6:16 p.m. CT July 1, 2015
Defense lawyers for a key defendant in the Thomas Monfils murder case were denied access Wednesday to Monfils’ and his wife’s mental health and marriage counseling records.
However, reserve Circuit Court Judge James Bayorgeon ruled Wednesday the defense should have access to other non-privileged, non-confidential evidence, including lead detective Randy Winkler’s mental health and disability records.
Keith Kutska, 64, who is serving a life term in Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, convinced Bayorgeon earlier this year to consider whether his conviction was unfair because of evidence that wasn’t presented at his 1995 trial in Brown County Court.
Wednesday’s hearing was a precursor to a three-day evidentiary hearing at which Bayorgeon will consider whether Kutska should have a new trial. Kutska wasn’t present during Wednesday’s hearing, but is expected to be present next week.
Kutska and five others were convicted of conspiring to murder Monfils in 1992 at the former James River Paper Mill in Green Bay. Monfils was found dead in a paper pulp vat after reportedly being missing from his work station in the mill. A 50-pound weight was tied to his neck.
Also convicted were Michael Hirn, 55, Dale Basten, 74, Michael Johnson, 67, Rey Moore, 68, and Michael Piaskowski, 66, although Piaskowski was released from prison in 2001 when a federal appeals judge ruled there was insufficient evidence against him.
Prosecutors 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. Bayorgeon presided over that trial.
Records subpoenaed by his defense team, led by Minneapolis lawyer Steven Kaplan, include:
- Mental health and marriage counseling records for Tom and Susan Monfils that are in possession of Susan Monfils’ lawyer, Bruce Bachhuber, who represented her in a wrongful death suit in federal court against the six defendants.
- All of Bachhuber’s records pertaining to the murder case.
- Mental health and disability records of retired Green Bay detective Randy Winkler. In the year after the trial, Winkler, who says he suffered from post-traumatic stress from the three-year investigation, became embroiled in a labor dispute with the police department and eventually left on disability.
On Wednesday, Bachhuber, who now also represents Winkler, argued that the Monfils’ and Winkler’s personal records are confidential, that much of what Kaplan is seeking is protected by attorney-client privilege and that winnowing through 22 boxes of 22-year-old files is an onerous task.
“It’s a fishing expedition,” Bachhuber said. “They’re trying to get everything they can out of my files in hopes of finding something relevant.”
Kaplan, who was not present in the courtroom but participated in the hearing by conference call, argued that many of the records he sought had been presented publicly in trial, court hearings or administrative hearings so they weren’t confidential or privileged.
Kutska has been serving a life term “for a crime he didn’t commit and that we contend as not a crime at all,” Kaplan said. Four others also are serving life sentences, and that outweighs the task that winnowing through 22 boxes of evidence would present to Bachhuber, Kaplan said.
Bayorgeon ruled that the Monfils’ psychological and marriage counseling records would remain confidential. In Winkler’s case, only records that were made public in administrative hearings or worker’s compensation hearings would need to be presented in evidence, Bayorgeon said, adding he didn’t believe such records would be especially relevant or useful.
Defense is alleging Winkler bullied some key witnesses into saying things that weren’t true, but Bayorgeon said, “If he coerced anybody, he either did or didn’t, whatever his mental condition.”
Bayorgeon ordered Bachhuber to make available anything his files contain that actually made it into court in Susan Monfils’ federal court case. Anything that wasn’t presented in court doesn’t need to be turned over, under his ruling.
Wednesday’s hearing was held a week early because Winkler will not be available to appear in court next week. He is expected to testify in a separate hearing later this month. Bachhuber must turn over the files in time for that hearing.
Bayorgeon is expected to decide after that hearing if Kutska will have a new trial.