By Sarah Thomsen, WBAY Staff. | Posted: Wed 10:02 AM, Jul 03, 2019 | Updated: Wed 5:54 PM, Jul 03, 2019
ONEIDA, Wis. (WBAY) – A fifth man convicted in the Monfils 6 murder case was released from prison Wednesday morning.
Michael Johnson, 71, walked out of Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center in Oneida a free man. He did not stop to talk with the Action 2 News crew outside the prison.
Johnson’s release comes about 24 hours after the release of co-defendant Rey Moore.
In 1995, Johnson, Moore and four other men were sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Tom Monfils at a Green Bay paper facility. Prosecutors said they conspired to kill their co-worker as an act of revenge.
Johnson and Moore served 24 years of their sentence until the parole board granted their release.
Johnson’s parole was deferred 10 times during his incarceration. It was granted on May 31, 2019.
Johnson was greeted by his wife, his sisters, some children and grandchildren.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet time for this family. They’re very nervous, they’re terrified of what’s ahead because when you have a loved one who’s away for so long, you don’t know what the future holds,” says Joan Treppa, social justice advocate and friend. “There’s a lot of transition time that’s going to happen. There’s going to be a lot of learning to do on his behalf.”
Author Joan Treppa was there for Johnson’s release. While pushing for their release, she has befriended the men and visited them in prison.
“These aren’t monsters or union thugs or murderers,” Treppa says.
Treppa has also become close with the families.
“They’re excited that he’s getting out, but it’s also terrifying because they haven’t lived with this person for 25 years,” Treppa says. “And it’s like… they’re going to have to get to know each other all over again There are traumas that have happened in the families and in prison that they’re going to have to work through. This is very traumatic.”
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. All six men have maintained their innocence.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
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.
With the release of Moore and Johnson, that leaves only Keith Kutska behind bars in the Monfils 6 case.
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.
Treppa says freedom comes with a cost–a fear of how they’ll be treated by the public.
“They’re going to be out walking the streets in this town, and they don’t know who they’re going to come across. They don’t know who is going to say ‘hey, congratulations,’ or ‘go to hell’ you know,” Treppa says. “They don’t know, so it’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear amongst their elation.”
The episode is titled Charlotte View: Joan Treppa, the ‘Erin Brockovich’ of the Wrongfully Convicted.
Also featured on the program is private investigator Johnny Johnson and the step-daughter of Michael Johnson (one of the convicted men) Joan Van Houten.
The episode is titled A Voice for the Hopeless with Joan Treppa.
The interview discusses Joan’s experience as a citizen advocate for the wrongfully convicted men of the Monfils’ Case.
Also featured in the interview are call-ins by retired private investigator Johnny Johnson (who has provided pro bono services for the case) and Joan Van Houten, the step-daughter of Michael Johnson, one of the convicted men.