Tag Archives: Innocence Project of Minnesota

Setting the Example…

Currently, five innocent men; Keith Kutska, Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Reynold Moore, and Michael Johnson grow older…more weary…and beleaguered, as their time in prison continues.

We all make a difference…every day. We don’t realize it because often, the results are neither profound or earth shattering. But it’s a fact that the smallest of actions can have the greatest impact and become an example for those around us.

Awhile back, when I emerged from the shadows, compelled to devote my existence to fighting for the rights of six Wisconsin men, it not only ended up having a major impact on their lives…but on mine as well. Suddenly, my life held more meaning and was more focused. Although it may not have been my initial intention to take this specific path, it always was my choice to make. But I now think of it as more of a responsibility I had no choice but to embrace.

I believe this book, Reclaiming Lives; Pursuing Justice for Six Innocent Men, which I’m about to publish, will create a firestorm of support that could affect current legal actions. Certainly not because it’s the best literature ever written but because it embodies the very essence of what we as humans aspire to be—example setters.

To further my point, I wanted to highlight something noteworthy that resulted from a story I wrote awhile back. Exoneree, Michael Piaskowski, whom I consider a colleague and valuable friend, was compelled to post it on the site where the article appeared:

“Hello to everyone. As Joan Treppa noted [in this article]; after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to ‘life in prison’ for a crime that I did not commit, I was completely exonerated and ordered released by the United States Federal Court system; all of my citizenship rights restored. In simpler words, the United States ‘legal system’ worked for me. The system made a mistake. The system recognized the mistake. And the system corrected that mistake. I am again ‘free’ to pursue all the rights and liberties bestowed upon all United States citizens.

Unfortunately that very same legal system has failed the other five men in this case. We (the other five defendants and I) are ALL innocent of this crime. All six of us were convicted of an incident that never took place. I repeat: It never happened. Thomas Monfils’ death was caused in some other way. The Green Bay police investigators got it completely wrong. I do not know how Tom died, but I do know that it did NOT happen the way we were convicted of it happening.

2013 photo of exoneree Michael Piaskowski and Joan Treppa at benefit for Innocence Project of Minnesota.

That’s where wonderful people like Joan Treppa come in; to pick up where Justice Myron Gordon left off and, at least in this case, to continue the fight for true ‘Justice for Tom’.

With the help of John Gaie, Denis Gullickson, Johnny Johnson, Steve Kaplan and Cal Monfils; and organizations like the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, The Innocence Project of Minnesota, The Wisconsin Innocence Project, and the Family and Friends of Six Innocent Men group here in Green Bay; collectively, we fight this just cause. It’s the American way. On behalf of the wrongfully incarcerated everywhere, thank-you Joan, for your dedication and perseverance. — Mike ‘Pie’ Piaskowski

Here’s the link to the story (which was posted in an earlier blog).

An update: Please help me spread the word. Signed copies of my book which addresses this unjust case are now available for pre-order. The book is currently discounted at $12.95+ shipping). This link takes you to a FB page to access the ‘Shop Now’ button (located in the upper right corner). Books will be shipped when they become available.

I’m truly honored to have had your support along the way as I continue on a path to making a difference and being an example on behalf of these men and their families.

 

A Promise Delivered…

In October of 2013, my husband and I attended a Benefit for Innocence, an annual gala hosted by the Innocence Project of Minnesota along with 20+ other supporters of the Wisconsin paper mill case. The Benefit was held at the (former) Graves Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis. I stood alone canvasing the reception room, touting a small white paper sack containing special gifts. I was excited but a little nervous, too. I had started preparing for this moment months ago. I’d made a solemn promise to deliver some precious cargo, in person that evening. I was on a mission to give these items to the keynote speaker-an exoneree and was determined to keep that promise.

I watched silently and nervously for the arrival of Brian Banks who suddenly appeared and was standing fifteen feet from me. The moment was at hand. This was my chance. I approached him and after introducing myself, I blurted out that I had come bearing gifts. His gracious look despite my awkwardness spoke volumes. I relaxed but only for a moment as I could hardly contain my excitement in showing him these treasures!

Brian Banks and Joan

 Joan Treppa with exoneree Brian Banks

To this exoneree my sincere gesture was appreciated and he was visibly moved. Brian Banks’ story is quite tragic. He ended up in prison because of a lie told about him by someone he trusted…

Brian Banks was accused, arrested and later charged with two counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping. The year was 2002. He was sixteen years old with a dream of a lifetime waiting at his doorstep. Brian was, “…a blossoming football star and had verbally accepted a four-year scholarship to play at the University of Southern California.”  But instead, he was falsely accused of rape. The only place Brian was going, was to prison, forcing him to postpone, even abandon any chance of pursuing a career in professional football. He was 26 years old when the California Innocence Project successfully aided in his exoneration in 2011. Brian actively tried once again to resume his football dream. He ultimately did not succeed.

People tell lies. It happens all of the time. But how does one reconcile being sent to prison because of one? 25% of all exonerations regarding a rape charge end up being resolved because the accuser knowingly makes a false statement and later recants. In this case the accuser admitted during a video-taped interview that she had lied. But not before Brian had served five years in prison. Never a thought was given to the consequences of her actions and what her accusations meant for him. After he was released, her aspirations were to reconnect and let bygones be bygones! And charges, perjury or otherwise, were never brought against her.

At the Benefit, Brian said he had spent a lot of time feeling angry over what happened to him. But he was unwilling to waste time on those emotions any longer. In fact, he can now be found working with the Innocence Project, helping other wrongfully convicted people regain their freedom. And he does it with the same passion as when he was cradling a football.

Oh, and what was in that little white paper sack that was so important? It was the book, The Monfils Conspiracy, which documents the Wisconsin case I advocate for. Accompanying the book were letters sealed inside five envelopes with return addresses from four separate Wisconsin prisons with the names and ID numbers of, Reynold Moore, Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Keith Kutska and Michael Johnson, all addressed to Mr. Brian Banks…

“Hotrod Breakout”…A Benefit That’s Going Places…

I’d like to share a few thoughts about some of my dedicated friends; Rosemary and Pat Bonnett, Johnny and Linda Johnson, Chuck Brost, Jesse Hoffman and Eric Von Son for their enthusiastic efforts to assist me in helping those who’ve been wrongfully convicted. Their fervor to benefit those whose voices have been judged, criticized, condemned and ultimately silenced makes me proud to call them friends.

Last year, we all began to promote an organization known as The Innocence Project-a non-profit that represents the wrongfully convicted and helps alleviate the financial burdens they face. We combined talents to create a unique way of soliciting funds to further their mission. Our hope is for this event to become more popular over time and be a significant source of revenue to aid in freeing innocent victims.

The success of the Innocence Project is crucial because of the few and very humbling options these victims have which forces them to rely on the generosity of complete strangers. We must not forget that they have been unfairly criminalized as thugs, murderers and rapists who used to be more accurately seen as an integral part of civilized society-striving for the same amenities in life as all of us do. They were independent and responsible for their own lives. They lived and loved as we do before fate sent them down a much different path. To whatever end awaits them, achieving help from the often overstretched, under funded Projects takes a miracle.

Alas, in the wake of this dismal subject comes action and exciting details of an event we put together last year that we will repeat again this year. We’ve named it, Hotrod Breakout-a classic car show/benefit with proceeds going to the Innocence Project of Minnesota. We are currently getting ready to host our second annual to be held on Saturday, August 2nd 2014 from 9 am to 2 pm. Last year we received many donated services and prizes, etc…but this year we are looking for sponsors to help cover costs that will give our event more exposure, make it much more enjoyable and attract even more attendees.

I will disclose more details soon but wanted to include in this piece, mention of the place hosting our event. Route 65 Classics in Ham Lake, Minnesota, “…is dedicated to the classic car and motorcycle enthusiasts looking for the car they “once had” or their dream car.” They answered our prayers last season by providing their location at no charge, and in addition, they made a large monetary donation to our cause. They’re providing the space again this year and have bridged connections to other businesses also willing to participate. We hope this event will be especially successful this year and that it will go down in history as the best car show ever…and one that will drive this wrongful conviction issue back into nonexistence!