As I walked past a grocery store a woman came out carrying an impossible load of groceries including two overstuffed paper bags with no handles, forcing her to carry them in her arms like a pair of twins. In one hand at her finger tips she straddled a six pack of beverages. She clearly struggled to hold on to everything as I observed but kept on walking, making the decision to mind my own business. The sound of glass crashing to the cement seconds later did not compel me to turn around and lend a hand. Instead I chose to feel ashamed and embarrassed and feared if I helped her now she might be angry I did not come to her aid sooner. When I share this story some ask why she didn’t use a cart. I say, “Why didn’t I help?” When others suggest I should let it go and move on, I say, “Not in a million years!”
This experience happened in my early twenties. It was a problem I could have easily remedied with a little kindness. Many years later I was given a second chance to do the right thing.
Enter…social justice advocate; supporter of six innocent men.
My introduction to wrongful convictions came about when I read a book in 2009 called, The Monfils Conspiracy. It tells the tragic story of Keith Kutska, Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Reynold Moore, Michael Johnson and exoneree Michael Piaskowski; six paper mill workers wrongfully convicted of murder in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA, in 1995. Putting aside any conclusions I had of guilt or innocence, my initial impression was that they had been bullied, much like I was as a young girl. Although their experience was far worse than mine, their rights, like mine, had been violated. After delving into what seemed to be a bottomless pit of horrific details about the case, it became apparent these men were unfairly targeted despite evidence that clearly pointed to their innocence. They had families, homes and job security. What’s more, they had alibis and no prior history of violence. Through no fault of their own, they became victims of an ambitious prosecutor, a police force plagued with having facilitated a critical mistake and unrelenting pressure to close the case, and a community consumed by vengeance and fear.
Bringing attention to this case was necessary. Since Michael Piaskowski had been freed (exonerated) by a federal judge citing no credible evidence, the indications were clear-that the six men who were tried jointly in the same courtroom are all innocent. I say this with the utmost confidence because there was no evidence or credible eyewitnesses linking them with any crime. In fact, there’s no certainty that a crime was even committed! Anyone who has had an experience with or knowledge of a wrongful conviction knows how common this is.
For the men and their families I became a voice to convey their truth, their tribulation, their victimization…a voice I once longed for…a voice that eventually compelled a sympathetic attorney to bring this case back into the courts.
In October of 2014, a motion to request an evidentiary hearing for one of the men, Keith Kutska, was filed. That motion was granted by the original trial judge, and a 3-day hearing was held in July of 2015. Its purpose was to ask for a new trial for Kutska. However, that request was denied by this same judge. So a new motion was filed in the WI Court of Appeals in March of 2016. That motion was denied on December 28, 2016. By 2018, efforts to petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the final stop, the U.S. Supreme Court, failed also. The political climate plaguing this case is strong. But we are stronger. We will persist…until justice prevails for these innocent men and their families.
Information about this case can be found at the sidebar labeled, The Tom Monfils case revisited.
The wrongfully convicted typically have no resources to seek any, let alone, adequate legal assistance. They linger in prison, praying for someone to care about them. Many write letters to various organizations and lawyers which garners few, if any, responses. This only serves to bottom out an already defeated soul.
I learned of an organization called the Innocence Project-an organization that charges nothing to represent incarcerated people with legitimate claims of innocence. The great thing is, they are willing to help if they can. The bad thing is, they rely heavily on public donations and grants to fund their work and can only take a limited number of cases based on monetary resources at hand. Many times those funds are grossly inadequate, forcing the overseers of these valuable resources to turn away many desperate cries for help. However, if you know of someone who has been wrongly convicted, I urge you to seek out your nearest Innocence Project for guidance. There are many across the country and around the world.
Many larger problems and issues are out of reach for this suburban wife and mother. But if I can make even the tiniest difference in this one, maybe my actions will affect the larger picture. That’s all I can do and that’s all many people like me strive to do. I’m one person who started the ball rolling. Beyond that, I leave the heavy lifting for those with the appropriate skills to carry further the torch of freedom. And there’s no shame in that…
Feel free to contact me with your story, to ask questions, or air your concerns. I’m also available to speak to groups, large or small. But please note that I am not qualified to assist in individual legal matters. Thank you.