Walk for Truth and Justice
GREEN BAY – Friends and family of the men convicted of murder in the 1992 death of Tom Monfils marched in protest for the eighth consecutive year Friday.
About 50 people gathered at the steps of the Brown County Courthouse to listen to speeches by Green Bay author Denis Gullickson, self-proclaimed justice advocate Joan Treppa and state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.
Also speaking briefly was Lee Basten, brother of Dale Basten, one of the six convicted men, who recently was released to an assisted living facility because of health reasons. Treppa spoke about Dale Basten’s declining health when she met him in prison.
Taylor spoke of reforms needed in state law to protect the rights of defendants, to provide them with a fair parole process, and to increase state payments to inmates freed upon proving their innocence.
The group then marched around the courthouse, to the Green Bay Police Department and back.
The group, inspired in part by “The Monfils Conspiracy,” a book by Gullickson and co-author John Gaie, believe six men were wrongly convicted in 1995 of Monfils’ murder in a Green Bay paper mill. One of those men, Mike Piaskowski, was released from prison in 2001 after a federal judge ruled there had been insufficient evidence to convict him. He and Gaie joined Gullickson in Friday’s event.
Monfils was 35 when he disappeared from his work station at the former James River Paper Mill in 1992. A few days later, searchers found his body in a paper pulp vat. A weight had been tied by a jump rope to his neck. Detectives and a medical examiner concluded Monfils had been beaten into unconsciousness, then deposited in the vat, where he died. Prosecutors convinced a jury that lead defendant Keith Kutska, angry that Monfils had reported him for a minor theft from the mill, whipped co-workers into a frenzy that resulted in them beating Monfils and throwing him into the vat in an effort to hide him and save their jobs.
The defendants’ lawyers at the time tried to claim someone else had committed the crime, but more recent appeals efforts by Kutska focused on the theory that Monfils could have killed himself.
Here are 10 things you may have forgotten about the case and some more recent developments:
» In 1993, when police were still trying to put together a case, Monfils’ widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the six eventual defendants, two other mill workers, the union to which they all belonged and insurers. The case settled out of court.
» Two years later, police swooped into the east side paper mill and arrested seven, not six men. That seventh man was soon released, and felony charges were filed against six: Kutska, Piaskowski, Rey Moore, Michael Hirn, Dale Basten and Michael Johnson.
» Then-District Attorney John Zakowski, now a Brown County Circuit Court Judge, successfully argued before Outagamie County Reserve Judge James Bayorgeon that all six men should be tried simultaneously. A jury brought in from Racine County heard the month-long trial. All six men, each of whom had his own defense laywer, were convicted of being party to first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison.
» All of the men have tried a variety of appeals strategies, but only Piaskowski has been successful. Piaskowski was freed in 2001 after serving six years in prison. U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Myron Gordon called the case against him “conjecture camouflaged as evidence.”
» Basten, at 76, the oldest of all six men, was released this summer to an assisted living facility because of health reasons. The others remain in different prisons around the state.
» Also this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Kutska’s case. Kutska lost appeal efforts that claimed his trial attorney and subsequent appeal lawyers relied too heavily on a medical examiner’s analysis of autopsy results. That analysis was faulty and caused police and lawyers on both sides to discount the possibility Monfils killed himself, according to Kutska’s claim.
» In 2009, Denis Gullickson and John Gaie, Piaskowski’s former brother-in-law, wrote and published “The Monfils Conspiracy: The Conviction of Six Innocent Men.” In it, the authors claim the lead investigator, former detective Randy Winkler, was overzealous and aggressive, that he bullied people into making statements that helped him and other detectives develop a faulty timeline of goings-on in the mill on the morning of Monfils’ disappearance. The state’s case rested on a confrontation between Monfils and the six defendants at a water cooler in the mill; the authors say no such confrontation happened.
» Shortly after the publishing of the book, a group formed called The Family and Friends of Six Innocent Men. They meet regularly, submit support letters for the parole board, organize the annual walk around the courthouse and share information about other innocence projects around the country.
» Zakowski, Winkler and Monfils’ widow’s lawyer all have stood by the case and stated the six men, including Piaskowski, were fairly tried and properly convicted.
» Several key people involved in the case have died. That includes federal Judge Myron Gordon, Dr. Helen Young, the medical examiner, former Brown County Coroner Genie Williams and some of the mill workers who had provided key testimony in the case.
Rally held for men convicted in 1992 Monfils murder
Supporters of the men convicted in the 1992 murder of Thomas Monfils rallied at the Brown County Courthouse Saturday, buoyed by the hope that they can soon ask a judge to reconsider the case.
“The legal team has been working with witnesses and experts to prepare a motion showing why the men were wrongfully convicted,” said Denis Gullickson, who has written a book claiming that the six were wrongly convicted. “We expect that a motion will be filed with the court in the very near future and the reasons why the convictions were wrongful will then become clear.”
The six were convicted in 1995 in the killing of Monfils, who was a 35-year-old worker at what was then the James River Corp. paper mill when he was slain. Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Michael Johnson, Keith Kutska and Rey Moore are serving time in state prison; Michael Piaskowski was freed in 2001 after his conviction was overturned when an appeals court found that there had been insufficient evidence to convict him.
Gullickson told about 40 people gathered outside the courthouse in twilight Saturday that a Minneapolis attorney and the Minnesota and Wisconsin Innocence projects are preparing a court filing on behalf of the men who remain in prison.
Supporters carried signs bearing slogans like “Walk for Truth, Walk for Justice,” and “Stand Witness to Innocence.” After listening to Gullickson and justice advocates Joan Treppa and Trudy Baltazar, they marched to Green Bay Police Department headquarters and back, chanting the name of each man followed by “not guilty!”
Police and prosecutors, however, have not wavered in their belief that the convicted men were involved in Monfils’ murder. Retired Detective Randy Winkler, who led the Green Bay Police Department’s investigation into the case, recently characterized Gullickson’s book and its claims that the men are innocent as “toilet paper.”
Monfils’ body was found in a pulp vat at the paper mill where he had worked for 10 years, a 45-pound weight around his neck. He died of suffocation and strangulation.
Prosecutors say the six men had confronted Monfils after Monfils told police that Kutska planned to steal electrical cable from the mill, and that one of the men struck Monfils in the head with a wrench or other blunt object. Jurors convicted the men in October 1995 after a six-week trial.
A letter written by Joan Treppa to news reporters prior to the Innocence March in Green Bay, WI on 10/28/13.
The Inspiration Continues
Many who read this may wonder why I have not let this Monfils issue rest. Everyone has their opinion about whether the six men are guilty or not and so do I. I’m just more vocal about it. The thing is, after years of unrelenting determination and persistence in search of the truth, I still have not seen or heard anything to prove that they murdered anyone. Not one person has ever given me a credible argument as to why they believe in the guilt of these men so I continue my pursuit of justice on their behalf. I have never been alone in that pursuit and the list of believers keeps growing. The Wisconsin Innocence Project now has help from the Minnesota Innocence Project as well as a very large and respectable law firm here in Minneapolis. Significant time has been spent pouring over and discussing the so called evidence and it just isn’t there!
The continued courage and endurance I witness among the family members fuels my drive to see justice served also. These people represent the collateral damage that no one talks about. They signify the rest of the tragedy that no one ever acknowledges and even though their lives have been ruined, few seem to care. Somehow they still find the strength to hold their heads up and take pride in the fact that none of these men has ever caved under pressure by admitting to something they did not do. I wonder how many of us could endure that kind of pressure.
I have earned the trust of these family members and I will again walk proudly with them in the name of truth and justice on Monday, October 28th at 5:30 pm at the Brown County Courthouse, because to me, that is what this is all about; to verify the absolute truth about what actually happened and to encourage justice for all involved, whether it be for the first victim in this tragedy or for all of the other “collateral damage” that has followed.