Tag Archives: Green Bay Wisconsin

An Unearthing of Ghosts…

A fitting day to share this chapter from my book; triumph that instilled an uncommon but short lived dose of hope and possibilities…

Chapter 33

Legal Woes for the Opposition

Halloween, October 31, 2014. A fitting day to illustrate an unearthing of ghosts still lurking through the halls of the Brown County Courthouse. Finally, twenty-one months of effort put forth by a dedicated legal defense team came to fruition when they filed a 152-page motion, more than one hundred exhibits, and several affidavits in Brown County requesting an evidentiary hearing for Keith Kutska. Close to twenty years later, this small Midwest town was thrust back into legal upheaval.

There was a flurry of news reports on local TV stations and in print. One Green Bay Press-Gazette headline read:

“Defense: Monfils Death a Suicide. New Legal Team Seeks to Have Conspiracy Conviction Thrown Out.”

Read the news article here.

When this motion was filed, Johnny and I took great satisfaction in knowing we had played a monumental role in its inception. The families were hopeful. We all felt great about it because there was real progress being made. And our miracle was a kick in the legal shins for Brown County. They most likely never expected we’d get this far or that this case would actually make it back into the courts. But there it was. I imagined the clambering behind closed doors to keep their wits about them because the further this moved forward, the more media attention they’d receive. There’d be no escaping public scrutiny or the tough questions that followed. And it’d be a cold day in hell before those questions stopped. This was no longer merely a movement of family members, close friends, and two crusaders from Minnesota. This motion was spearheaded by a respectable law firm armed with an unrelenting dedication and ability to keep on keeping on.

The main points listed are directly from the original 152-page brief, and are as follows:

  • Defense counsel provided ineffective assistance by conceding the State’s homicide theory without consulting an independent forensic pathologist and investigating the evidence of suicide.
  • The State denied Mr. Kutska due process by relying on erroneous forensic pathology, and perjured fact witness testimony.
  • Mr. Kutska has presented “sufficient reason” for this motion.
  • The court should vacate this conviction in the interests of justice.

These excerpts are taken from this same document. They reveal major aspects of a failed investigation in a massively flawed case:

At approximately 7:42 a.m. on November 21, 1992, Tom Monfils—despondent, shamed, and angry—left his work area at the James River Paper Mill and walked toward an entrance of a nearby airlock passageway. As he neared the airlock, he picked up a 49 lb. weight and proceeded through the airlock. He then entered a storage area where his jump rope was hanging on a railing. With both the rope and weight in hand, Monfils walked to a large vat containing approximately 20,000 gallons of liquid. There, he climbed the steps to the top of the vat, tied one end of the rope around his neck and the other end to the weight, and entered the vat where he suffered traumatic injuries and died from drowning in the liquid.

Courtesy of the Green Bay Press Gazette

After a 2 1/2 year investigation, Kutska, and five other mill workers were convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison for Monfils’ death. The prosecution’s theory was that after Kutska had learned that Monfils had reported him to the police for stealing a piece of electrical cord from the mill, Kutska fomented “an angry mob” of his “union brothers” that viciously beat Monfils at a water bubbler (water fountain) at approximately 7:45 a.m. and then disposed of his body in the vat at approximately 7:50 a.m. on November 21, 1992. That theory embraced the conclusions of the medical examiner Dr. Helen Young, who concluded that Monfils had been beaten and then placed in the vat where he died.

Dr. Young’s homicide determination was, however, erroneous and rested on a series of provably false assumptions, as well as her ignorance regarding the engineering design and operating factors impacting the movement of Monfils’ body in the vat. As forensic pathologist, Dr. Mary Ann Sens states in her report, Dr. Young also lacked any scientific or medical basis for reliably and accurately determining that Monfils’ death was the result of a homicide and not a suicide. Indeed, there is ample and compelling evidence that Monfils had taken his own life.

Unfortunately, residents and law enforcement officials in Green Bay remained unwilling to appreciate the implications surrounding the firm’s findings that support a possible suicide. This first round of filings caused the county to push back…hard. They resisted the notion the case had been mismanaged. They remained as steadfast as ever in a dying effort to uphold all of these convictions, including Mike Piaskowski’s, in spite of his exoneration in a federal court. At every opportunity, John Zakowski defends the biggest case of his career with toxic statements that still fuel a vengeful public. Afterward and in present day, his most vicious attacks are aimed directly at his worst nightmare come true. In reference to the release of Michael Piaskowski he flatly states, Michael Piaskowski “was not exonerated,” rather, he was “mistakenly let go” due to a poor appeals argument by the attorney general’s office. And in a recent interview he did for a documentary about the Monfils case, Zakowski stated, “People tend to say, ‘Well, it’s only circumstantial evidence.’ Circumstantial evidence is many times stronger.”

Euphoria diminished as we waited and waited for a reply from the State. When the State did finally respond, it was as expected. In their response, they argued against every measure of the firm’s brief. However, it was again the defense team’s turn to have one last say in the matter before a final decision was to be reached. The firm was ready. They filed their reply brief earlier than the allotted time…

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Deferential Observations…   

I recently reconnected with a former classmate, Brian Berghefer. Brian and I were friends through grade school even though I was the fraidy-cat introvert and he was the good-humored extrovert. Brian was always respectful to me, unlike many of the other kids.

Brian was kind enough to purchase my new book, Reclaiming Lives; Pursuing Justice for Six Innocent Men which was published in June, 2017. I received an email from him shortly after he finished reading it. I felt Brian’s words needed to be shared because not only do they speak volumes about the steadfast nature of Brain’s character but they also convey the public outrage I hoped to rouse as a result of writing this book.

Thanks Brian, for your encouraging and deferential words. It’s feeling like old times, my friend…

Hi Joan,

I just finished your book. It’s the first book I have read in probably 17 years and my first impression is WOW!!

First of all, I cannot believe the raw deal these six men got. I know our system is flawed but not as totally corruptible as what was allowed to happen in GB.

What is it with mid-Wisconsin with these cases where people are railroaded by the system, i.e. The Monfils case and the Avery case? Does this happen elsewhere with such frequency?

                                   Tom Monfils, Dale Basten, Michael Johnson, Michael Hirn,                                     Reynold Moore, Keith Kutska, exoneree Michael Piaskowski

Secondly but most importantly is your taking on the task of seeing these men find justice and your resolve and tenacity in completing the task! Knowing somewhat of where you come from, if someone had told me someday you would be an author I would probably have dismissed it, knowing what a shy and quiet person you were. But now finding your voice through such a noble cause is very refreshing and I applaud your commitment to these men and their families and I wish you well in this endeavor. I only wish I had your ability to commit so totally to a cause.

You have created another believer in me as I sort of remember the case. But it happened when I was working on the Lakes so I never really paid attention and all but forgot about it. My wife who lived in GB at the time barely remembered it (as have many) till I started following you and your progress and reading about the sham investigation. The travesty brought on by it is repugnant and should be to any American who discovers it!

I believe your book is just the tip of the iceberg in waking up public interest and hopefully you can get a major network to join your fight and spread the word creating a broader groundswell of interest. I believe that through persistence, you and fellow Truth Seekers will prevail. I only pray that it comes soon for these men and their families!

Sincerely,
A Very Proud Friend
Brian Berghefer

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A news story about my recent book signing in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Additional photos of the signing.

Residual Smoke and Mirrors…

In lieu of the current wildfires in Alberta, Canada, I sent a message of concern regarding the safety of my new friend and colleague, Lorraine Dmitrovic, who resides in Ontario. Lorraine responded by saying that her area was seeing something resembling residual smoke from the Province that is engulfed in the actual flames.

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Joan Van Houten

Lorraine co-hosts an Ontario based podcast called, The Ultimate Movies Broadcast Show. She invited Joan Van Houten and me onto her show recently as a follow-up to a previous interview she did with Mark Saxenmeyer, CEO of The Reporter’s Inc, about an upcoming wrongful conviction documentary he is producing called, The Innocent Convicts (which will include the Wisconsin Monfils case). With Joan being the step-daughter of Michael Johnson, one of the six men convicted in this case that is still incarcerated, and me, an advocate on Johnson’s behalf, Lorraine wanted us to inform her audience of our advocacy in the case.

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Joan Treppa

 

Each interview that Joan and I do reflects back, giving a mirrored image of the infinite devastation that befell countless innocent lives, in the wake of this flawed case. Our goal is to reach new audiences, to educate, inspire, and caution, about the prevalence of wrongful convictions within our society. With a record breaking 151 exonerations in 2015, an average of 3 per week, this issue is slowly becoming less obscure, as the number of exonerations surpasses those of previous years, and as news reports continue to unveil additional stories of innocence.

 

 

My husband and I awoke this morning to a definite haze, as described by Lorraine, that ironically traveled both from Canada and from a small town just north of us-Bemidji, Minnesota. I likened this phenomenon to the Monfils case, a travesty of injustice with its vagueness, incomplete and questionable gaps that failed to bring clarity to the resulting death of the deceased victim. Expectations were placed on a dazed jury, forcing them to reflect on evidence that amounted to nothing more than a smoke screen. Their decision to convict these six innocent men leaves us all in a cloud of residual smoke that lingers to this day…

Smokey sunrise over Laddie Lake 5-7-16

Smokey sunrise over Laddie lake

Here is the full 54-minute interview with Lorraine Dmitrovic.