Paul Srubas, Green Bay Press-Gazette | Published 9:42 a.m. CT Jan. 12, 2020 | Updated 12:57 p.m. CT Jan. 12, 2020
GREEN BAY — Michael Hirn still hopes to be exonerated of participating in the murder of Tom Monfils in a Green Bay paper mill in 1992.
But his biggest concern now, 27 years later, he says, is, “I want people to know me for who I am. People think of me as a killer, but people who know me know me for me.”
Hirn, 55, was one of six men convicted in 1995 of beating Monfils, 35, and dumping him unconscious into a pulp vat in the former James River paper mill, where his body was found a day later.
Monfils had reported co-worker Keith Kutska for stealing scrap wire from the mill. Kutska generated anger at Monfils throughout the mill by obtaining and playing a recording of him reporting the theft to police.
Police believe that led to a confrontation with Kutska, Hirn and the others surrounding Monfils, pushing, then beating him to unconsciousness, and then, worried about the loss of their jobs for the infraction, deciding to dump him into the vat with a 49-pound weight tied to his neck.
Hirn and the others all have denied from the start that any such confrontation took place and that they had anything to do with Monfils’ death. Supposedly without knowing what happened to him, they have advanced a variety of alternative explanations, the most current being that Monfils killed himself because of his failing marriage and the deterioration of his standing among his co-workers.
To anyone who would ask, “who in their right mind would kill themselves like that?” Hirn said he’d answer, “Who in their right mind would kill themselves?”
Only one of the alleged co-conspirators has been exonerated. Michael Piaskowski, now 70, was freed from prison in 2001 when a federal judge ruled there had not been enough evidence to convict him.
Since then, all of the co-defendants have been released except Kutska, who won’t be eligible for parole until next year.
Dale Basten, 77, died shortly after being paroled for health reasons in September 2017. Rey Moore, 73, and Michael Johnson, 72, were released on parole last July.
Hirn has been paroled for a little more than a year. He spent nearly three hours Saturday with writer and social justice advocate Joan Treppa at a book signing at the Brown County Central Library. Treppa was selling and signing copies of “Reclaiming Lives: Pursuing Justice For Six Innocent Men.”
Hirn and Treppa fielded questions from the 35-person audience, most of who seemed to have read Treppa’s book or “The Monfils Conspiracy: The Conviction of Six Innocent Men,” by local authors Dennis Gullickson and John Gaie, the latter of whom is Piaskowski’s former brother-in-law.
That book, which Piaskowski helped with when it was written in 2010, launched a grass-roots clamor for the men’s freedom. It also inspired Treppa to write her own book and to help arrange for new appeals efforts through private investigators, volunteer private lawyers and lawyers from the Wisconsin and Minnesota Innocence Projects.
Questions put to Treppa and Hirn Saturday demonstrated that questioners had already accepted the premise that Hirn and the others were victims of a faulty and aggressive police investigation, overzealous prosecution and a sloppy, unfair legal system, as described in Gaie’s and Gullickson’s book.
Police and prosecutors have defended the original convictions and maintain the trial achieved the truth. They argue court systems have upheld the original findings except for the one federal appeals court judge that exonerated Piaskowski.
“It makes me angry,” muttered one woman who had asked many of the questions of the day. “These are the people we are supposed to be trusting?”
Hirn expressed hope that he’d eventually be proven innocent. He said he still has the option of trying to get his case into federal court and is only waiting to find a lawyer who will handle the case for free.
But in the meantime, “I can’t be bitter,” he said. “I am not going to let this define who I am.”
Walking into a restaurant with friends and well-wishers during one of his first days of freedom, he asked them, “Do you realize how excited I am? To be able to just get up and get ice cream when I want it, or be able to just eat whatever I want?”
He dined on one of his favorites, biscuits and gravy, and spent a day of freedom ice-fishing when he first got out, he said.
He recalled taking a walk shortly after his release and having a woman pull up in her car, put down the window and told him, “I saw you on the news last night. I want you to know you should be proud and hold your head up high,” Hirn told the audience. “I told her, ‘I’m going to.’”
He said the Green Bay community has so far proven welcoming and positive.
“I have had not one negative interaction with a person,” he said. “And I’ve had probably seven or eight where the people have said ‘I’m glad you’re out.’”
He remains on parole, a lifetime assignment, for which he must pay $40 a month, he told the audience, from which could be heard tsk-tsks and a whispered “It’s ridiculous!” But his restrictions are few. He doesn’t have to wear an electronic monitor, and he has regular but uneventful visits with his parole agent.
He received job training in prison and has been working for about a year laying I.T. cable. Part of the joy of being free has been learning about how technology has advanced, he said. The first time he confronted a cell phone, he said he had to ask: “How do you call somebody on this thing?”
Asked by an audience member what he would say to anybody doubting his innocence, Hirn said, “Everybody is entitled to their opinion, whether they’re on our side or not. Read the book. You’re entitled, but not if you’re uninformed.”
WBAY.com – Posted: Sat 7:14 PM, Jan 11, 2020
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A man convicted in one of Wisconsin’s highest profile true crime cases made his first public appearance since his release Saturday.
Michael Hirn joined author Joan Treppa for a book signing Saturday afternoon at the Brown County Library.
Hirn was convicted in the killing of Tom Monfils, but was released from prison in 2018.
Treppa, whose book is titled “Reclaiming Lives”, describes herself as a citizen advocate for the wrongfully convicted.
After the signing, the pair sat down and discussed his life since being released, and what they believe are major flaws in the case.
“Initially, because I read the Monfils conspiracy book and it seemed like bullying to me, I had been bullied as a child, and that really tugged at my heart strings. I know what it feels like to be accused of something that you didn’t do and to have it on the scale that they had it really affected me, and I had to get involved,” said Treppa.
Action 2 News has reported on the so-called “Monfils 6” case for years.
In 1992, Tom Monfils’ body was found in a pulp vat at a paper mill in Green Bay.
Six men, including Hirn, were convicted and sentenced to live in prison.
All six men have maintained their innocence, and five of them have since been released.
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.”
Paul Srubas, Green Bay Press-Gazette Published 6:15 p.m. CTDec. 13, 2018 | Updated 4:38 p.m. CT Dec. 14, 2018
GREEN BAY – While some may have mixed feelings about the release of convicted murderer Mike Hirn from prison next week, Mike Dalebroux called it “my best Christmas present in years.”
Hirn, one of the so-called “Monfils Six,” will leave prison Tuesday after serving 23 years for a crime that some people — including Dalebroux — believe he never committed: The 1992 murder of Thomas Monfils in a Green Bay paper mill.
Dalebroux is Hirn’s stepfather — his father, really, since he raised him from age 7.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no ‘step’ in it,” Dalebroux says. “He’s my son.”
Small wonder, then, that Dalebroux is in full celebration mode at the news that Hirn has finally been granted parole, making him the third member of the Monfils Six to make his way outside the prison walls.
“I’m really excited about him coming home,” Dalebroux said. “We’ve been praying for this for 23 years.”
The six men were convicted in 1995, three years’ after Monfils’ death in the former James River paper mill, where they all worked.
Third man to be set free
This much of it is undisputed: Monfils, 35, snitched on Keith Kutska for stealing scrap wire from the mill; Kutska got a three-day suspension for the infraction, and he spent the time off persuading Green Bay police to turn over a tape recording of the anonymous tipster.
When Kutska got back to work, he played the tape for his co-workers and all agreed it was Monfils’ voice. What happened next was the subject of a month-long jury trial.
Police and prosecutors claim Kutska whipped up enough anti-Monfils sentiment among his co-workers that six of them, including Kutska and Hirn, surrounded Monfils, roughed him up, knocked him unconscious and then, fearing the loss of their jobs, dumped him into a pulp vat, where his battered body was found three days later.
Kutska and the others claim there was no such physical confrontation, that the point to playing the tape around the mill was to get confirmation that it was Monfils’ voice so that Kutska could take union action against him. How Monfils ended up dead supposedly is as much a mystery to Kutska and friends as it is to anybody. Someone else did it, or Monfils took his own life, they suggested through court proceedings over the years.
First out was Mike Piaskowski. He was released from prison in 2001 when a federal appeals court ruled there hadn’t been enough evidence to convict him. His only comment about Hirn’s impending parole, sent by email,was, “Other than to say again that WE have always been absolutely innocent, and that THEY have always been absolutely wrong (and THEY absolutely know it), I prefer not to make any statements.”
The other defendants were all unsuccessful in their appeals and petitions for parole, but defendant Dale Basten, 77, was released to an assisted living facility last fall for health reasons. He died several months later.
All of the defendants have been before the parole board, but Hirn was the first to have success. He became eligible for parole in 2010 but was unsuccessful for eight years. He got word last week that his time is now.
Dalebroux predicted the others would soon have similar success. That would include Kutska, Michael Johnson and Rey Moore. Johnson and Moore are scheduled for March and July parole hearings, while Kutska’s next hearing is set for March 2021.
Hirn, 54, who has been serving his time most recently at McNaughton Correctional Center in Oneida County, is to be officially freed Tuesday. His aunt and uncle, who live in Waubeno, will pick him up from the prison, and Dalebroux will drive 2½ hours to go get him.
“We’ll have a 2½ hour drive back to try to catch up,” Dalebroux said. “I know Michael is looking forward to having a nice big steak dinner, something he’s not had in all the years he’s been incarcerated, so when he gets home, we’ll grill out and go to the town on that, fixing steak and baked potatoes.”
Hirn has missed more than just steak and baked potatoes since he’s been incarcerated. His grandmother who helped raise him died while he was in prison. His older brother was killed in a motorcycle crash about the time that Hirn had served seven years in prison.
“They were very, very close — each other’s best friends,” Dalebroux said. Hirn wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral.
“We paid to have someone professionally record the whole thing, and we sent the videotape to Michael,” Dalebroux said.
Then, four years ago, Hirn’s mother — Dalebroux’s wife, Trudy — died.
“Two guards brought him up to the funeral home to view her and to talk to relations,” Dalebroux said. “They gave him about a half-hour and then took him back.”
Dalebroux and Hirn’s son, now a Marine stationed in the Netherlands, visited Hirn in prison as much as they possibly could. That often meant traveling out of state, to Mississippi and Minnesota and all over Wisconsin as Hirn was moved from place to place as part of normal prison system transfers.
Effort to clear names continues
“Michael Hirn spent over 8,650 days incarcerated for a crime he did not commit,” said Denis Gullickson, who co-authored a book, “The Monfils Conspiracy: The Conviction of Six Innocent Men,” that helped launch a grassroots clamor for the men’s freedom. “During this time, he lost his beloved mother and his son grew up, graduated from high school and went off to college.
“All that time, Mike remained steadfast in his innocence,his personal dignity and his temerity. He put any bitterness over his situation aside and embrace the opportunities available to him. One of his former prison guards cites Mike as his personal example of keeping a positive attitude in life.”
Gullickson said his and others’ efforts to clear the men’s names will continue.
“Michael Hirn has always believed that he’d eventually achieve freedom,” said Joan Treppa, a Minnesota activist inspired by Gullickson’s book to join efforts to seek the men’s freedom.
Hirn has received training in prison in trades like cabinet-making and heating and air-conditioning repair, according to the parole board, which also cited his “positive” adjustment to prison life as one of the points justifying his release.
“People must understand that this (parole) was not simply handed to him,” said Treppa, who met all six men as part of the research for a book of her own, “Reclaiming Lives: Pursuing Justice For Six Innocent Men.” “He earned it through hard work, diligence, patience and a positive attitude. I believe that, in moving forward, being angry over something he cannot change will never define who this man is.”
Cal Monfils, the dead man’s brother, is also friends with Hirn and a believer that all six men were wrongly convicted.
“I think it’s great news,” he said of Hirn’s impending parole. “(It) could only be better if he was actually being exonerated as I feel he and the rest should be.
“Once Mike gets settled in, I’m really looking forward to getting together with him again.”
Less happy with the news is retired detective Randy Winkler, who was demonized in Gullickson’s book as having been unwilling to consider other possible theories of the case, and being overzealous and even bullying when interrogating mill workers during the investigation.
Winkler said he had just been on the brink of writing to Hirn in prison to urge him to make a public confession, to better improve his chance of gaining parole.
“I have mixed feelings,” Winkler said. “It’s a long time for him to sit.”
But “If he didn’t admit it, I don’t think he should get out,” Winkler said. “That’s the long and the short of it. They can deny it all they want, but you know that’s what happened and that they’re responsible for it.”
Winkler said he could possibly agree with the parole board’s assessment that Hirn may have been less culpable than the others, “but in my conversations with him, I’ve no doubt whatsoever he was involved,” Winkler said. “He told us in the basement of his house one time that he wanted to tell us what happened but was afraid for his family. A person wouldn’t want to tell you everything unless he was involved.”
Hirn supposedly was Monfils’ friend, making it all the worse that he was in on it, Winkler said.
Dalebroux is well aware many people in the community, like Winkler, are still convinced of Hirn’s and the others’ guilt. But he expects to receive no flak about it from his friends or when he and Hirn are out in public.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “All the guys know about my son and the ‘Monfils Six’ and they’ve talked to me freely about it, because they know I know they know.
“And we’ve conversed enough about it, and they’ve given me their opinions. I’m not saying we won’t get one or two coming out of the woodwork who will go berserk about it, but I’m not looking to have any problems.”
Hirn has always been personable, has many friends awaiting his release, and likely will make more, Dalebroux said.
“He’s already had numerous people requesting to visit, he’s had several job offers. … I don’t there’ll be any kind of problem whatsoever.”
For Dalebroux, Hirn’s release has motivated him for the first time in years to celebrate Christmas.
“Since Trudy passed away, I haven’t even put up tree,” he said. “But I’m in the process of putting up decorations and a tree right now. I’ve very much looking forward to Michael being here for Christmas.”
(WLUK – FOX 11 News) – Friday, December 7th 2018
Michael Hirn, 54, one of the men convicted of killing Tom Monfils at a Green Bay paper mill in 1992, has been granted parole.
Hirn, along with Michael Johnson, Rey Moore, Dale Basten, Michael Piaskowski and Keith Kutska were convicted in 1995 and all were sentenced to life in prison. A federal judge later overturned Piaskowski’s conviction. Basten was paroled due to his failing health, and died in June. The other three remain in prison, and all have been denied parole previously.
Hirn is currently housed at the McNaughton Correctional Center, a minimum security facility in Lake Tomahawk, according to state records. He will be released no later than Dec. 18.
According to the parole documents obtained by Fox 11, Outagamie County Judge James Bayorgeon – who presided over the joint trial –supported the release as early as 2010.
“I believe Mr. Hirn should be paroled at the earliest possible date. While his involvement was extremely bad judgment, I feel the time he has served is sufficient punishment and that further incarceration is not necessary. He has paid his debt, he should paroled,” Bayorgeon wrote.
The report says Hirn has been approved to be live with his step-father. He is close to obtaining an associate’s degree, and has been doing “very well” at work release.
The decision describes Hirn as the “least culpable” in Monfils’ death.
Monfils reported Kutska to police for stealing an extension cord from the then – James River paper mill on the east side. Prosecutors said the six confronted Monfils, dumping his body into a pulp vat. All have denied any role in the murder.
Johnson’s next parole hearing is in March. Moore’s next review is in July. And Kutska’s next parole hearing is in March, 2021, the state says.