Tag Archives: Brown County Courthouse

Hearsay! Hearsay! The Court is Now in Session! Pt. 2

On July 22, 2015 I attended the 3rd and final day of testimony in the evidentiary hearing for Keith Kutska-one of six men convicted in the 1992 death of paper mill worker, Tom Monfils.

courtroom-for-keiths-hearing-7-22-15Brown County Courthouse during evidentiary hearing

Testimony on this day was especially perplexing. The bulk of it was spent questioning the former lead detective who worked on the Monfils case, Randy Winkler.

Here’s the summary:

 Evidentiary hearing for Keith Kutska July 22, 2015

Day three:

9:23 a.m. – Eleventh witness:

Attorney Bruce Bachhuber – Practiced business litigation and family law. He was legal counsel for Sue Monfils, wife of Tom Monfils, in a wrongful death lawsuit against all six of the defendants, and later in a separate civil suit against the Green Bay Police Department regarding the release of the audio tape to Keith Kutska prior to Tom Monfils’ disappearance.

Bachhuber had been subpoenaed prior to this hearing by defense counsel to produce Sue Monfils’ medical and marriage counseling records. John Lundquist showed the court and Bachhuber a copy of that subpoena. Bachhuber verified receiving the document. He was asked if he brought any of the stated documents with him, and he said he had not. When asked why, he argued they were protected by attorney/client privilege and that he wasn’twilling to waive it. Discussion ensued about the relevance of the requested documents in regards to the Monfils case and why they should or should not be provided. Bachhuber added other documents listed on the subpoena were no longer in his possession. He stated he had searched for them, but couldn’t locate them. The judge interjected by saying some of the requested documents hadn’t been admitted as exhibits at the wrongful death case trial and weren’t within the scope of what he’d ordered Bachhuber’s firm to produce at the hearing. The documents that Bachhuber did bring were of no relevance to the motion. Bachhuber was dismissed.

9:40 a.m. – Twelfth witness:

Jody Liegeois – Restaurant hostess in Abrams, Wisconsin, 1995–99.

Liegeois said she knew Verna Irish, formerly Verna Kellner, from the restaurant where she was employed because Irish worked at the adjacent gas station and had dined there often. She never met Brian Kellner, but knew he was Irish’s ex-husband. She said Keith Kutska was a friend of Liegeois’ dad, and that Liegeois had met Keith at the family’s home. She followed the trial and was aware of the Irish and Kellner testimony. She had a conversation with Irish about Irish’s testimony. Irish had said she was upset because she and Brian Kellner had been forced to lie about the so-called “bar reenactment” in which Kutska had allegedly showed them how Monfils was beaten at the bubbler.

The DA objected to Liegeois’ answer. It was overruled.

Liegeois said Irish told her that the investigator in the case forced hers and Brian Kellner’s testimony about the reenactment, and that both she and Brian had lied.

The DA objected to the statement about Kellner’s testimony. Steve made offer of proof. The statement was allowed.

Liegeois again stated her knowledge that Kellner’s testimony was forced by Winkler, but she didn’t report it back then because she felt the case was a “done deal.” She contacted Steve Kaplan after hearing news reports regarding the first two days of the evidentiary hearing, and the information stating that Irish and Kellner had lied during the trial. She did so because of what she felt she knew.

The DA pressed that Liegeois knew this twenty years ago, but was only coming forth with it now. She answered yes.

9:50 a.m. – Thirteenth witness:

Gary Thyes – Employed as a barber in Green Bay, 1992–95.

Thyes knew Brian Kellner, and cut his hair for a number of years. He knew of Monfils’ death and of the ongoing investigation. He said he had to kick detectives out of his shop when they brought in statements for him to sign about comments supposedly made by some of his regular customers who worked at the mill. “They made up stories . . . they made up what they wanted me to sign,” Thyes said. Thyes refused to sign any of the statements. He had conversations with Kellner about detectives threatening to take Kellner’s kids away. Kellner also told Thyes he had signed a police statement he later felt bad about signing. They had talked about how Kellner eventually signed the statement when threatened to have his kids taken away. Kellner said he was very upset right after he signed it, and had contacted an attorney about it.

The DA asked if Thyes had ever contacted a defense lawyer. He said he had not and that he didn’t start following the recent developments until he read Kellner’s obituary (in 2014). Furthermore, he didn’t contact Steve Kaplan until he read about the recent hearings. He also said he didn’t know Kellner had testified twice about the reenactment. He said he told Steve Kaplan he could pass a lie detector test in regards to what he knew about Kellner. The DA asked Thyes when his conversation took place with Kellner about signing the statement. He said Kellner had come into the shop shortly after (he signed it) and told him.

10:05 a.m. – Fourteenth witness:

Randy Winkler – Former Green Bay police officer, and detective sergeant. In January of 1994 he became the lead detective for the Monfils case.

Winkler was subpoenaed for this hearing to produce information about his disability settlement with the police department, along with other documents. He was shown a copy of the subpoena, and verified having received it. He was asked if he brought documents specified on the subpoena to the hearing. He said he hadn’t When asked why, he stated attorney/client privilege, as well as doctor/patient privilege.

Winkler learned the body was found two days after Monfils went missing, and that it had a rope and weight attached. He stated he wasn’t part of the initial police team sent to the mill to investigate, but went the following morning. He was looking for trace evidence—blood, hair, tissue, etc. When Steve asked Winkler about looking for evidence of an act of violence at the mill including near the bubbler, he implied Winkler had found none. But Winkler stated this was incorrect. When Steve asked Winkler to clarify his answer and disclose what evidence he was referring to, Winkler stated matter-of-factly that a body had been found. Steve rephrased his prior comment this time excluding the body as the kind of evidence he was alluding to, and reiterated that there was no evidence found anywhere in the mill. Winkler said this was correct. Winkler didn’t recall if luminol was used with black light to search for blood. Winkler believed there was a connection between the 911 call and Monfils’ death.

The autopsy was discussed. Winkler didn’t recall the names of the police officers present. He was asked if he was aware that Dr. Young didn’t believe the death was a suicide. An objection by the prosecution was sustained.

There were repeated objections regarding detail sheets and other documented exhibits Steve produced and showed to Winkler. These were part of the initial investigation, but signed by other officers. The prosecution argued Winkler couldn’t speak for those other officers and the defense should call them (officers) to the stand. Steve contended Winkler was the lead detective of a major case and should be well versed in the contents of these documents. Steve pressed that Dr. Young had influenced Winkler’s opinion that there had been a beating and that this theory guided his investigation, even though there was no eyewitness or physical evidence to support it. None of these exhibits were admitted. They were placed in the record under an “offer of proof.” Steve asked Winkler if the bubbler theory was developed before talking with Brian Kellner. He said yes.

Steve stated the police could never match a blunt object to an injury on Tom’s head. Winkler said this was correct. Steve presented a list of nine suspects generated in December of 1992. Winkler verified the list, and that six of the men on it were later charged. The name David Weiner was on the list and Steve stated Weiner was never charged. Winkler said that was correct. Exhibit was admitted.

Steve stated David Weiner was interviewed on numerous occasions. Winkler said yes. Winkler also said he believed Weiner took a leave of absence from the mill. Asked if Winkler testified that Weiner was an important witness, he said he did not recall. Discussion ensued about Dale Basten and Mike Johnson carrying something heavy. An objection by the DA was overruled.

Steve talked about Tom Monfils’ height and weight and the distance from where Monfils was allegedly beaten and the vat. Steve asked if Winkler believed Weiner saw Basten and Johnson carrying the body to the vat. Winkler said yes. Steve discussed the logistics of carrying Monfils’ body and expressed the added difficulty of having a rope and heavy weight attached.

When asked if Winkler was interested in who tied the knots, Winkler said “yes.” Steve suggested if Monfils had tied the knots, it would lead them to believe he committed suicide. Winkler said “no.” He also stated he assumed a beating had taken place. Steve pressed that Winkler never found anyone who said he saw a beating, and Winkler said this was correct. No eyewitnesses? No. Winkler stated he presumed there were witnesses, and that the mill workers were lying or covering up for fellow mill workers. Winkler stated the knots were sent to the crime lab. When asked if Winkler was told the knots should be sent to the coast guard, he said he didn’t know. Steve produced an exhibit; a detail sheet from December of 1992 that stated that the knots should be checked by the coast guard or the navy. When Steve asked Winkler if the knots were checked by either branch of service, Winkler said he didn’t know and that he never took steps to have them checked. Winkler says he obtained knots that Basten had tied, but didn’t remember if they were the same as on the body and said he didn’t compare them. Winkler didn’t find out if Monfils could have tied the knots, and Winkler stated he didn’t know the type of knot on the rope and weight.

Winkler stated he knew Monfils had a skull fracture, but that it had to come from something other than the vat impeller blade. Steve produced autopsy photos of Monfils’ skull and of the blade edge impressions. Winkler didn’t recall them. He also didn’t recall that a dentist made a cast of the skull. He didn’t recall the width of the wound in the skull or the width of the impeller blade. Winkler said no object was found to match the skull fracture wound. Steve asked if anyone educated Dr. Young on the shape of the blades, and Winkler said he didn’t recall. Steve pressed if any expert had determined what matched the blade, and Winkler said he didn’t recall. Steve expressed his lack of understanding of Winkler’s inability to remember many of the details of the case, despite recent conversations with reporters and filmmakers about the case.

Detail sheets were discussed. Steve asked Winkler if detail sheets needed to be accurate. Winkler said yes. Winkler stated he determined what went into them and that no one else confirmed their contents. Winkler stated they were critical pieces of information used by the police and prosecutors in criminal cases. Winkler typed up witness interviews on his own typewriter. When asked if Winkler recalled visiting Steve Stein at Stein’s home, he said no. Winkler was asked if he conducted surveillance. He replied yes. Were reports written up? Winkler couldn’t say. When asked if he had access to tape recorders, he said yes. Were they (tape recorders) ever used in interviews? Winkler said no, by choice. Steve asked if Winkler conducted about two hundred interviews during the Monfils investigation, and Winkler said it was closer to five hundred. Winkler was asked if he did reports for each interview, and Winkler said no. He stated it wasn’t always necessary. Steve asked Winkler to describe when they weren’t necessary, and Winkler said it was when the content didn’t pertain to the case or if the person didn’t have any information. Steve asked if any interrogations got heated, and Winkler said no. Steve asked whether anyone who stated he (Winkler) did get angry was lying. Winkler said yes. Steve asked if there was a reward for any arrests and convictions, and Winkler said yes. When asked if it was $75,000, Winkler stated he didn’t know. Steve asked if Winkler would tell people there was a reward and he said yes, but added no one said they saw anything.

The Reid Method of Interrogation was discussed. This technique is an accusatory process in which the investigator tells the suspect there is no doubt as to his or her guilt. It is done as a monologue presented by the investigator rather than a question-and-answer format. Winkler stated he was trained in this method. Steve asked how many hours were usually spent to question a witness. Winkler said two to four. Steve asked if it allowed you to lie to the subject, and Winkler said yes. Could you coerce a witness into giving false statements? Winkler said no, but added if witnesses didn’t tell him what he wanted, he would do more of an interrogation. Steve asked if the method allowed you to threaten subjects by saying they would lose their jobs or have their kids taken away if they didn’t tell you something? Winkler said no. Steve asked if Winkler had interrogated Dale Basten for twelve hours, and Winkler said yes.

Winkler said he was authorized by Oconto County to conduct the investigation. When asked if Verna Irish and Brian Kellner lived there, he said he didn’t recall but it was possible. Winkler said he didn’t recall if they (Verna and Brian) had children, but he was aware they were going through a divorce. When asked if he was aware that child custody was an issue, he said he didn’t. Winkler said he met with Brian Kellner to get information on many suspects and when asked if he documented every interview with Kellner, he said yes. When asked if Winkler was aware that someone claiming to be from child welfare visited the Kellner children, he said he had no knowledge of that. When asked if Winkler remembered Kellner asking him to leave his kids out of it, Winkler said he did not.

Steve presented a nine-page detail sheet regarding a 2.75-hour interview from 1994 between Winkler and Brian Kellner. Winkler asked to read the entire document. Afterward, Steve asked if Winkler noticed in the detail sheet that the Fox Den reenactment incident was not referenced. Winkler said yes. Steve presented an exhibit of the statement Kellner signed, and Winkler verified he had prepared it. Steve noted minor changes made with Kellner’s initials; three on one page, one on another, but no substantive changes were made on the document. When asked if Kellner resisted signing the final statement, Winkler said he did not.

Steve asked Winkler if people at the mill told him about Monfils’ obsessions with death and drowning, and Winkler denied ever hearing this. Steve asked if Winkler ever heard Susan Monfils say it was possible that her husband committed suicide, and he said he did not. When asked if he ever obtained Monfils’ medical records, he said he did not know. Winkler said Monfils’ death was ruled a homicide, and that was how it was investigated. Winkler also stated even if Monfils had tied knots, this wouldn’t have determined it was a suicide.

Steve asked Winkler if the DA ever made comments to him about a deal for Weiner after Weiner’s arrest, and Winkler said no. Steve asked if Winkler recalled Weiner stating he wouldn’t cooperate in the Monfils case without a deal, and Winkler said he did not. When Steve showed Winkler a news article containing that statement, Winkler said he still didn’t recall. Winkler said he didn’t recall visiting Weiner at Oshkosh Correctional to obtain writing samples. Steve then produced a letter from Weiner’s lawyer referencing the visit and Winkler’s own detail sheet documenting it. When Steve asked Winkler if he hadn’t told Weiner during the visit that Weiner’s cooperation could improve his position if he cooperated, Winkler said he hadn’t. Discussion ensued about a series of letters from an attorney representing Weiner regarding a deal, including a possible reduced sentence for his testimony. Winkler denied any knowledge of them or that Weiner’s lawyers contacted the DA’s office before the Monfils trial. In fact, Winkler denied having any knowledge of Weiner’s case even though he was still working at the police department.

Steve asked about a psychological disability claim Winkler had filed with the department. The DA objected. Steve argued it went to credibility of a lead detective in a homicide case. It was decided five specific documents in question would be entered under seal, and that both sides would have a chance to argue for or against their relevance at a later time.

The DA asked Winkler about his work history. Winkler stated he was employed by the department in 1975. He rose to the rank of detective sergeant and worked on the Monfils case for three years. Winkler stated it was stressful being subjected to the conditions at the mill, and that he was under constant scrutiny by the men there. He said he received a death threat, and he also said people claimed Monfils got what he had coming. There was a great deal of speculation within the community, and suicide was brought up often. The DA asked if Winkler ever promised to give Weiner a deal for his testimony, and he said he had no authority to make deals.

Steve established Winkler had an office at the mill, that the mill made it clear that job retention was based on the workers’ willingness to “cooperate with police,” and that the office was available to perform interviews. Winkler also clarified that he and other officers brought witnesses to the police station to talk.

In conclusion: Judge Bayorgeon commended Steve on his “diligent” and “amazing” job during this entire hearing, before he admonished him for insinuating a “public servant” (the then- DA Zakowski) lied about a Weiner deal. Bayorgeon stated he had examined all the documentation and could not find anything to suggest a deal was made or that the DA lied about it. He indicated those were serious allegations to be making. He added that specific letters presented at this hearing in regards to such a deal could not support the claim of a deal. He also said it was a twenty-eight-day trial with eighty-one witnesses, and the jury was instructed to consider all witness testimony.

Judge Bayorgeon gave each side time to argue the merits of the sealed documents in writing and to submit briefs on the merits of the motion for post-conviction relief.

On Wednesday, January 13, 2016, the motion for a new trial was denied. Immediately following, a similar appeal was filed in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. On Wednesday, December 28, 2016 that motion was also denied. The next step was a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That motion is currently pending.

Posted are two related news stories.

Green Bay Press Gazette

KMSP Fox 9 in Minneapolis

Hearsay! Hearsay! The Court is Now in Session!

On July 8, 2015 I attended a hearing in Green Bay, WI regarding a two decades old criminal case where six men were convicted of murder regarding the death of co-worker, Tom Monfils. Back in 1995 the State questioned witnesses about an alleged confrontation that led to a beating and then murder. All six defendants were ultimately found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Five of them remain behind bars prison today and have been incarcerated for twenty plus years while one was exonerated in 2001 by a federal judge who cited a lack of evidence to convict him.

courtroom-for-keiths-hearing-7-22-15Brown County courtroom during Keith Kutska’s evidentiary hearing

Last week we heard from a new Minneapolis/Wisconsin legal defense team who agrees with this federal judge and is further convinced that all six of the men are, in fact, innocent. With resistance from the State, there was compelling evidence presented that strongly suggests suicide. However, it is not the intent of this defense team to simply prove it was suicide but to create sufficient reasonable doubt that if this evidence had been presented at the original trial, it could have provided a different outcome for the defendants. The team has worked diligently for over the past two years compiling new facts that they feel should compel the courts to grant a new trial for Keith Kutska, considered as the “ring leader” of a mob that allegedly participated in the death. The hope is that this petition will prompt exonerations across the board for all of the men.

I’ve summarized much of what was covered during two days of testimony, with the help of my husband, Mike, who also took detailed notes, the exoneree in the case, Michael Piaskowski, as well as retired private investigator, Johnny Johnson, and our lead attorney on the case.

The title of the piece reflects the many objections throughout this hearing asserted by the prosecution. Ironically, it was exactly that which was rampant during the original trial but was not successfully objected to by the defense attorneys.

I’ve provided what I believe will give you a true sense of the egregiousness of this entire case.

Evidentiary hearing for Keith Kutska July 8-9, 2015

Day one:

 

9:00 a.m. – Two objections by DA David Lasee:

  1. Discussion about whether to sequester expert witness, attorney Steve Glynn, or allow his presence in courtroom before he testifies. Glynn was then escorted outside.
  2. Objection to a last-minute motion admitting testimony for the following day by retired coast guard and former merchant marine George Jansen. Ruling was in favor of the defense.

9:20 a.m. – First witness:

Dr. Mary Ann Sens – Licensed forensic pathologist and chair of pathology for the University of South Dakota. Has been in practice since 1982 and has performed between three thousand and four thousand autopsies (one thousand–plus autopsies involving suicide).

Her conclusion regarding the cause of death of Tom Monfils: “Undetermined”

Condition of the body presented challenges. Evidence proved Tom was alive and still breathing after entering the vat. A police detail sheet was presented showing Dr. Young, the original medical examiner, making a determination shortly after the completion of the autopsy that the death was a homicide and could not have been a suicide. It was the opinion of Dr. Sens that, given the circumstances, Young could not have made that determination because it was impossible to recognize possible injury vs. decomposition due to deterioration, swelling, and discoloration of the body. Also, rapid deterioration of a body happens when submerged in liquid, and then removed. There was no way to determine the exact moment when the death occurred, or if all the premortem injuries listed in the original report were caused before or after entering the vat. A solid conclusion as to a cause of Tom’s death could not have been determined based on the autopsy. It required necessary toxicology tests and additional investigation by police, etc. In this case, it might not ever be possible to determine cause of death.

She told DA Lasee she agreed with how Dr. Young conducted the autopsy, but that she would have also weighed the organs. Discussion ensued about how current advances in science allow for different conclusions to be made. DA Lasee pressed that having another expert do an autopsy back then would not have necessarily garnered a different conclusion. Dr. Sens agreed a pathologist might have agreed with Dr. Young regarding which injuries were suffered before death and which were suffered after it. However, Dr. Sens made it clear that all premortem injuries could have been inflicted in the vat.

11:30 a.m. – Second witness:

Attorney Royce Finne – Former assistant DA in Brown County 1977–87. Has focused on criminal cases and did approximately a dozen homicide cases. As an attorney, he has worked on prior cases with Detective Randy Winkler. He was Keith Kutska’s first attorney in the Monfils case.

Finne never saw autopsy photos nor consulted a forensic pathologist to challenge the autopsy. He was satisfied with Dr. Young’s conclusions and felt the autopsy report was accurate. He believed Tom was murdered. He had no recollection of the other attorneys consulting a forensic pathologist. Was asked about his obligations to his client as defense attorney, and he responded by saying it was to defend his client as best as he could. Finne was shown a number of photos regarding the blade impressions and was asked if he ever brought them to a specialist. He did not. He did not attend all the civil trial depositions even though he was representing Keith. Finne had inquired if police looked to see if there was blood evidence, but hired no experts to review evidence regarding blood and knots. He was not aware of a deal for David Weiner’s testimony. In conclusion, he indicated he did the best he could, but did not question coroner’s results that a homicide occurred. He believed a beating had occurred, but not by his client. He said all the attorneys believed someone else did it.

Finne told Lasee he felt all the attorneys were competent. He did not investigate suicide. He felt he could not prove this was a suicide and would not be able to find anyone to disprove the autopsy.

1:30 p.m. – Third witness:

Attorney James Connell – Practicing attorney for forty years. He retired in 2014. Did criminal trial work and represented Kutska in post-conviction, and on an appeal.

He hired a private investigator to investigate Randy Winkler, David Weiner, and Brian Kellner. He did not consult or hire any expert witnesses. He knew the body was “mangled” but was not aware of the extent of its decomposition. He felt either Weiner murdered Tom Monfils, or that someone within the mill must have committed the murder. He never agreed with the State’s timeline of when the death occurred. He did not believe Weiner’s testimony was credible and asked him about a deal. Weiner responded there was none. He thought Weiner knew he was doing something that would get him out early, and he believes Weiner lied at the post-conviction hearing in 1997. Connell did not interview other mill workers regarding a suicide theory and didn’t raise the issue of the ineffectiveness of Kutska’s trial counsel. He thought all the attorneys were sufficient in their client representation. He went to many of the appeals and there was never any mention of suicide. He concluded Finne did a reasonable or good job in defending Kutska.

Steve brought up a matter involving a Brady rule violation. Under the United States Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland (1963), the prosecution must voluntarily disclose material favorable to the defendant in a criminal case that is known by the State. Steve was referring to a letter he argued was not disclosed to the original defense. The letter was from an attorney representing Weiner referring to a deal between Weiner and the DA’s office for his testimony at trial. An objection was raised about its authenticity, and the letter was regarded as hearsay. It wasn’t admitted but was placed in the record under an “offer of proof.”

2:30 p.m. – Fourth witness:

Attorney Stephen Glynn – Criminal defense attorney for forty-two years in Wisconsin. Helped with post-conviction appeals and has been involved with the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He has worked on approximately forty homicide cases with jury trials and on direct appeals for other serious felonies.

Glynn reviewed both Finne’s and Connell’s materials in the Monfils case and prepared a report regarding Keith’s legal counsel. Larry Lasee objected to the report, which was overruled. Lasee then moved to strike related testimony, and it was also overruled.

Glynn testified about the duties of legal counsel to aggressively investigate all avenues of evidence for clients, including retaining experts to create reasonable doubt, especially in homicide cases where life in prison is the most serious penalty allowed under Wisconsin law. He felt failures of the defense counsel undermined the trial and that Kutska, as well as the others, did not receive adequate representation. There was much discussion on a final determination of homicide versus suicide and how the trial could have been different. Counsel should have investigated Tom’s mental state, coast guard experience, and family problems. The suicide theory would have explained a lack of blood near the bubbler. A short discussion arose about the prosecution’s argument that washing away the blood was effective in ridding the area of any residue. Glynn stated this was not accurate due to the effectiveness of luminal (black light) testing and its capacity to expose residue left behind. Glynn referred to a commonly known acronym among defense lawyers called the SODDI defense (Some Other Dude Did It), and why defense counsel’s resort to it was doomed in this case.

DA Lasee objected to Glynn’s statement regarding luminal testing. It was stricken from the judge’s record.

Glynn stated Kutska’s appellate counsel was also negligent and should have brought up the deficiencies of trial counsel. A discussion between DA Lasee and Glynn ensued when Lasee questioned Glynn’s conclusions regarding the ineffectiveness of upward of twenty attorneys involved in the entire case. Glynn stood firm in his assessment and added his opinion, which was that had the case been tried differently, “I don’t think this case would have resulted in guilty verdicts, and I would bet money on it!”

3:55 p.m. – Fifth witness:

Ardis (Ardie) Kutska – Kutska’s former wife.

Ardie testified she and Keith were friends with Verna and Brian Kellner, and were with them at the Fox Den Bar on the evening of the alleged reenactment by her husband, Keith, of a bubbler incident in which the six men allegedly beat up Tom Monfils. Ardie said there was no reenactment. When asked by Steve if she had been asked to testify at the trial, she stated she was not, and was told by Keith’s lawyer that no one would believe her. She talked about Brian Kellner’s character and said he was “a nice guy, but I think he wanted people to, I don’t know, he wanted to make people like him or be important to everybody.” Discussion took place about Ardie’s many conversations with Keith about the case. Keith first believed Tom took his own life, but was later convinced it was a murder after he read the autopsy report of the forensic pathologist. Keith did not have any idea of who committed the murder.

Hearing concludes for the day.

Day Two:

9:05 a.m. – Sixth witness:

Amanda Williams – Daughter of Verna and Brian Kellner. Also has an older brother, Earl. She could not recall if her parents were going through a divorce or reconciliation during the investigation, but the primary caregiver was her father. She was thirteen years old between the fall of 1994–95, and knew the Kutskas as close family friends. She looked up to Keith as a father figure and recalled when he had colored with her when she was young.

The DA objected to Amanda’s testimony about an experience she had with Det. Randy Winkler. This action was overruled, and her description of the incident was as follows:

Amanda recalled being questioned by Winkler after getting off the school bus and spending a few hours with him during the Monfils investigation. She had been asked by him about her knowledge of the case. He asked if she wanted to stay living in the house with her dad or if she would rather live with her mom. She said she felt she was her dad’s little girl. When asked if she felt threatened by Winkler, she described physically backing away from him and his immediate and direct advancement toward her. He kept pushing her for answers. Winkler told her if her dad did not cooperate he would be in a lot of trouble. She felt this meant he would go to jail. She was told by her dad to be mindful of whom she talked to and what she said. She described her dad as being stressed about personal problems. The Kellners changed phone numbers a lot and moved. Her dad told her he was being watched by the police, and she said they would see cars sitting outside.

Amanda talked about a woman who appeared at her school one day and introduced herself as a social worker. Amanda said this experience felt weird and that the woman produced no ID. It bothered Amanda that she acted cold. The woman took her to the police station and left her in a room. She was eventually allowed to go home. She later told her dad about it and he fell silent. Amanda explained her dad would get quiet when he was upset. Amanda said her father felt threatened by law enforcement to make certain statements that supported the lead investigators’ theory that Monfils was murdered. Kellner finally agreed to make the statements demanded of him. Kellner later said those statements were false.

Judge states he considers all this testimony as inadmissible hearsay.

Amanda told the DA she had shared all this information with Finne. She does not know who the woman was who picked her up, but describes her as having tight curls and glasses. She believed, and still feels, Tom Monfils committed suicide.

DA suggested to Amanda that her life is better because her dad decided to recant his testimony about the Fox Den Bar reenactment and cooperate with defense counsel. Amanda proceeded to lecture the prosecution on the pain that this experience had brought her and how it has not made her life better.

9:35 a.m. – Seventh witness:

Attorney John Lundquist – Has practiced law in both Minnesota and Wisconsin for thirty-seven years. He has concentrated on criminal and regulatory defense and is a certified criminal defense specialist. He acts as general counsel at Fredrikson & Byron, PA in Minneapolis. He interviewed Brian Kellner in the fall of 2014.

Before questioning begins, DA objects to Lundquist’s testimony as hearsay. Steve argues it is adverse to Kellner’s interests and social standing. There is much discussion regarding the relevance and admissibility of Brian’s unsigned affidavit. It is accepted.

In February 2014, Lundquist met with Brian Kellner at Mike Piaskowski’s house to discuss his statement. Piaskowski was not present during the discussion. Kellner told Lundquist the Fox Den incident did not occur and that it was complete fiction. Lundquist asked Kellner if he would be willing to sign an affidavit regarding their discussion. Kellner said he would. Lundquist prepared the affidavit and was on his way to meet with Kellner in Green Bay to have him sign the document. Just east of Wausau on Highway 29, Lundquist received a phone call informing him Kellner had passed away earlier that day.

DA Lasee asked Lundquist if Kellner had ever seen the prepared affidavit. Lundquist replied, “He did not.”

10:03 a.m. – Eighth witness:

Cal Monfils – The younger (ten years) brother of the decedent, Tom Monfils.

Cal felt close to his brother and stated they never had a falling out. He looked to Tom with great respect, but said Tom was judgmental. They shared a room after Tom returned home from four years in the coast guard. Cal talked about Tom’s temper and how he would react by going off alone to cool off. He described how his brother would always tie knots. Cal was shown photos of the knots tied to the weight found with Tom’s body and described them as knots he saw his brother tie. Cal recalled a conversation he had with Winkler regarding the knots tied around Tom’s neck and to the weight. He told Winkler those knots looked like knots his brother would have tied. He said Winkler assured him they had already looked into this, and determined the knots were not Tom’s. Cal felt these photos were important because they represented the only evidence the prosecution had. Cal was asked about Tom’s marriage, and he said it was “different.” He said Tom would do many of the chores at home. Cal did not know if Tom and his wife, Susan, were in marriage counseling. Both their father and uncle had retired from the mill, and Cal knew Tom considered his job a large part of his life.

DA objected to Cal’s comments about what he heard from Susan. Steve made an offer of proof. Testimony was allowed to continue.

Cal recalled that shortly after the body was found, Susan had told their (Cal and Tom’s) parents she believed Tom committed suicide. He said Susan’s statement was known within the family, but the mother thought the idea was silly. Susan also mentioned notes she had found, and Cal felt it was implied they were suicide notes from Tom. At some point after the body was found, Susan had admitted herself into a psychiatric ward and Cal had picked her up after a three-day period. They had gone to make funeral arrangements and were headed to a florist when they heard on the car radio that Tom’s body had been found with a rope and weight tied to it. Susan then asked Cal to bring her to the bank instead of the florist. They both went in, and Cal said Susan went to check the safe deposit box. He did not ask her why. There was a lot of media coverage after the body was found, and Cal’s mother became the media spokesperson for the family. Susan remained silent. Cal talked to their mother many times about suicide, but she publicly stated Tom would never kill himself. He said their mother is deceased and has been for two years.

The DA asked Cal if he had seen the notes. Cal said he had not. Cal indicated his surprise at the accuracy of the knots tied to the weight and around the neck. He told the DA he was convinced those knots were tied by his brother, and when Susan described the notes, he was sure she was implying that they were suicide notes. Cal testified he wants all possible information on the table.

10:55 a.m. – Ninth witness:

George Jansen – Retired from four years in US Coast Guard. Was active duty from 1969–73, and was involved in search and rescue. He was stationed in various locations including Wisconsin, and was trained in knot tying, rigging, and firearms.

Jansen was asked about coast guard training requirements. They included learning how to tie approximately six types of knots, one of them being the two half-hitch knot which was used as a slip knot for tying up boats. During training they learned to tie all these knots without looking. Jansen proceeded to tie a two half-hitch knot for the court, and made a positive ID of this specific knot in Monfils’ autopsy photos. He also identified this same knot as one that was tied on to some common everyday nails (used in construction) that Cal Monfils had found in Tom’s home after Tom’s death.

The DA asked Jansen if this kind of knot could also be learned in other branches of service, in Boy Scouts, or in merchant marine training. He replied he did not know about the other branches of service, but said he thought it would be taught in the Boy Scouts and Merchant Marines.

11:10 a.m. – Tenth witness:

Steven Stein – Currently works at the former James River Paper Mill (now Georgia Pacific). He started in 1979 and is backtender on paper machine seven. He worked on this same paper machine (seven) with Tom Monfils and knew him for ten years.

Stein recalled Monfils did not have many close friends, and described his behavior as odd or strange. He said Monfils would make fun of others’ circumstances. He related the time when his wife gave birth to a premature baby. The Green Bay Press-Gazette did an article about it, and Monfils made copies, added derogatory comments, and posted several in various areas of the mill. The union consulted mill management about this and management said they would fire Monfils. Stein asked them not to because Tom had a wife and children to support, and suggested Monfils seek help. Monfils wasn’t fired, and Stein believes Monfils was off for a month to get the necessary help. Monfils would talk to Stein about people drowning and how he recovered their bodies, and how they had committed suicide. He would describe types of weights tied to their bodies to commit suicide. Stein said Monfils seemed to have an interest in death and drowning, and they had conversations about how much weight it would take to submerge a body. Stein talked to Winkler about these details, and he also told police he thought Tom committed suicide. At first the police agreed it was possible, but a week later they called it a murder. Stein learned the weight used on Monfils came from the number seven paper machine, and that he saw Monfils handling it before he went missing. He said Monfils was unusually quiet the week before his death. He said Monfils felt his job at the mill was important and was in fact, his life. Rumors surfaced at the mill about Tom’s troubled marriage and impending divorce.

Stein recalled the police presence at the mill during the investigation. He said the police didn’t hold back their thoughts on what happened and told workers that Monfils was beaten and thrown in the vat. Stein was asked repeatedly by Winkler if he thought Tom was beaten, and he felt pressured by Winkler to say he thought there was a beating. Winkler called Stein a “scumbag” after he refused to say there was a beating. Stein feared for his job. Stein was asked about Detective Frank Pinto, who was working in the mill as an investigator, but said he had no direct communications with him. However, he said mill management told him that his cooperation with police was related to the security of his job. Stein was concerned because he knew of men whose jobs were terminated due to a “lack of cooperation,” which meant not saying what police insisted they say. Stein was never told within the mill to not talk to police, and he recalled seeing when the luminal and black lights were used in an attempt to find blood residue.

Stein knew Kellner a long time and became close friends during the last years of Kellner’s life, because they worked together on the same job. Kellner told Stein he was troubled by Kellner’s statements about the case to police. He also told Stein he sought out emotional and legal counsel. Kellner told Stein his testimony in the case was false, and that he lied on the witness stand because he was afraid of losing his family and his job. He was also concerned about what people would think of him if he changed his story. Kellner told Stein he was having marital problems and was bothered that police had taken his kids out of school. Kellner said he was told this is how easy it is to get to his family.

Stein testified at trial, but felt threatened beforehand. The authorities wanted him to testify that Mike Piaskowski told him that Piaskowski knew what happened. Stein said this information wasn’t accurate and that he wouldn’t lie. Stein recalled, “An individual basically told me that they could take my life from me—not my life, but my job. Once I wasn’t making any money, they could promise I wouldn’t have a job in Green Bay. My family would no longer care for me. They wanted me to lie for them is what they wanted, and I refused.”

At this hearing, Stein refused to identify the person who threatened him, but said it was an individual involved in the Monfils case. When asked by the DA why he wouldn’t disclose the identity, Stein said it was because, to this day, he still feels threatened that he could wind up like the six men who were convicted. The DA confronted Stein about the fact that even though he didn’t lie on the stand, he didn’t get fired or lose his family. Stein agreed he did not.

Hearing concludes and will resume on July 22, 2015.

Posted are two related news stories.

WLUK Fox 11 news

WBAY Ch. 2 news

Firm Resolve…

On Wednesday, June 10, 2015 a news story appeared on WBAY Channel 2 in Green Bay, WI regarding the latest efforts to free Keith Kutska, the first of five Wisconsin men. To date, all of them have served twenty years of a life sentence.

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Drawing of Keith Kutska 

Artwork: Courtesy of Jared Manninen Medium: Indian Ink

Optimism rests in our hearts because of the humanity being demonstrated by the Minneapolis law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, PA. But none can predict what the outcome will be regarding the 3-day evidentiary hearing set to begin on July 8, 2015. Please keep the men, their families and close friends in your prayers during this apprehensive time as we move forward.

Thank you!

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Brown County Courthouse Green Bay, WI

Photo courtesy of Joan Treppa