Original Trial

1st Of 6 Defendants Takes Stand In Paper Mill Murder Trial (Chicago Tribune: October 18, 1995)

Worker Concedes Actions `Opened The Door’ To Death

October 18, 1995 – By Rogers Worthington, Tribune Staff Writer


GREEN BAY — Prosecutors sought Tuesday to depict Keith Kutska, the central figure in the paper mill murder of Thomas Monfils, as a manipulative liar bent on a revenge he urged others to carry out.

Kutska, 44, the first of six defendants to take the stand, insisted he did not mean for his effort to expose Monfils as the man who informed on him to lead to anything other than a “shunning” by fellow union workers at the James River Corp. paper mill.

“It opened the door. . . . It opened the opportunity to somebody,” Kutska said of his playing for fellow workers of a recording of a telephone call made to police by Monfils, 35. The call alerted police to Kutska’s planned theft of an extension cord from the mill.

Eleven days after the Nov. 10, 1992, call, Monfils was severely beaten and thrown into a vat of mud-like pulp with a 40-pound weight tied around his neck. Prosecutors say the “somebody” was a mob of six men, including Kutska, now fired from his $53,000-a-year job.

In his cross-examination, Larry Lasee, assistant Brown County attorney, outlined for jurors a sequence of lies told by Kutska to investigators and fellow workers about not stealing the extension cord. “If you’d lie for petty theft, why shouldn’t these people believe you wouldn’t lie for murder?” Lasee asked Kutska. After three weeks and 56 witnesses, prosecutors have been unable to give jurors any eyewitness or forensic evidence that links any of the six defendants to the murder.

Some of the strongest evidence presented during the trial comes from remarks the defendants are said to have made to others, including two convicts.

James Gilliam, who shared a cell with defendant Reynold Moore, 48, testified last week that Moore told him several of the defendants had cornered Monfils between two large machines where they could not be seen, and then beat and kicked Monfils, with Kutska delivering the first punch.

According to Gilliam, Moore said they left Monfils curled up on the floor, injured but alive.

Another witness, David Wiener, a former mill worker in prison for killing his brother, testified that he saw two of the defendants-Dale Basten, 53, and Michael Johnson, 47-carrying something heavy to the vat where Monfils’ body was later found.

Wiener testified that Basten, who was a $75,000-a-year worker at the paper mill, harassed and questioned him and a friend about what he saw.

Alan Kiley, a machine operator, testified that Basten and Johnson returned several times to the vat where Monfils died, even though they had no company business there. One time they sat and studied the area around the vat for 15 minutes.

During testimony Tuesday, Kutska acknowledged that he had urged two of his co-defendants-Moore and Michael Hirn, 25-to “go give him (Monfils) some (expletive).”

None of the defendants has accused any of the others in the case.

Hirn, the youngest of the defendants, was said in testimony by Green Bay police detective Craig VanSchykindle, to have told officers, “You guys know I know who did it, and you’re just trying to make me crack.” An FBI psychological profile of the defendants, then suspects, identified Hirn as the weak link among the six.

Mill worker Marianne Reimer testified for the defense late Monday that Hirn said he knew Kutska did not kill Monfils, but did not say how Hirn came by that knowledge.

Kutska, however, has been reported by several prosecution witnesses to have made remarks indicating that the revenge he sought may have been stronger than ostracism.

Jeff Herman, another mill worker, testified he was surprised to see Kutska at the mill on the day of the murder, rather than deer hunting. “I already got my deer. I got Monfils,” Herman testified that Kutska told him.

Two other prosecution witnesses testified that, on the day before Monfils was slain, Kutska had commented that he was “going to get” him.

Still to come in the prosecution’s rebuttal case is a witness who talked to Kutska while wearing a police tape recorder.