Tag Archives: Keith Kutska

Brown County’s Last Comedic Stance…

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a ruling had been reached in the July 2015 evidentiary hearing for Keith Kutska. I also noted that on January 13, 2015, our lead attorney, Steve Kaplan, was contacted by a reporter from the Green Bay Press Gazette, looking for a comment on the ruling. At that time, Kaplan was unaware of the ruling because he had not been informed. The reporter kindly sent him a copy of the official document. Then came the second blow; a denial of further action in the matter. There was not going to be a new trial for Keith Kutska.

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Logo design on T-shirts

My initial reaction was one of disbelief toward the blatant disrespect of Brown County. My second reaction bore mixed feelings as the reality of the situation set in. After thinking about it, this ruling was expected all along and the opposition was reacting with the same insolence they had displayed throughout the entire process. They were never going to acknowledge defeat. There was never going to be a new trial. Because that would suggest mistakes had been made and there was nothing to be gained by admitting to such incompetency.

However, this denial is not a bad thing for our men. Because of the way the hearing had been conducted, it was clear, even back then, it was never going to end favorably for Keith. In my opinion there seemed to be a tag team dynamic going on between the prosecutor and the judge during the entire ordeal. It was quite revealing to me and most unfortunate for Keith and his family. What was shameful was seeing the current prosecutor and the former Assistant DA involved in the original trial (a father and son team) both sitting at the same table during this hearing.

But in all reality, this ruling is encouraging.. It’ll take the case out of this biased town, away from this ridiculous progression of judicial recourse. It’s now headed for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. I believe that justice lies somewhere in the broader judicial spectrum. Proof of this lies in the first and only exoneration to date in this case which was granted to Michael Piaskowski in 2001 when his case landed in a federal court. A federal judge aptly cited the trial evidence as unsound and labeled it as “conjecture camouflaged as evidence.” It was a big stain on the prosecution’s pristine record.

Michael Piaskowski exonerated in 2001

Michael Piaskowski exonerated in 2001

Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Press Gazette

 

This document, in my opinion, epitomizes a wide gap between what’s right and what’s wrong with our entire legal process. I’ve been known to say that if these circumstances were not so tragic, they’d almost be laughable. After injesting the hypocrisy in this document, I rest my case.

Here is the complete 29-page document of the ruling from Brown County:

 

Ignoring Looming Threats…

The gates opened at 9 am. Rain clouds persisted as a procession with cars of all shapes, colors and models formed. Thunder rumbled in the distance but despite the looming threat overhead, the 3rd annual Hotrod Breakout Car Show/Benefit for the Minnesota Innocence Project (IPMN) was about to begin. Adults and children alike were showing up in modest numbers to experience this unique event designed to create awareness about an issue that devastates families across the country. Rain clouds threatened to ruin our activities but the real threat comes from ignoring situations that ruin lives such as the lasting effects caused by wrongful convictions.

P1040788Triplets with baby sister in tow

A structured program commenced at 10 am. Brenda Kutska spoke first. She shared her family’s personal misfortune of dealing with a wrongful conviction. Her Father-in-law, Keith Kutska was wrongfully convicted along with five other men in 1995 of a murder they did not commit. Keith and four  others have been in prison for twenty years. There was no anger or malice, only hope in Brenda’s tone as she spoke of the many years her family has lived with no expectations of ever seeing freedom for Keith. Her ability to stay positive is due to renewed hope fueled by recent legal help for Keith. Each time Brenda paused to catch her breath, a respectful audience waited. Even as they heard about circumstances many of them could not relate to, their hearts were deeply touched. And after hearing about this type of injustice, something they never considered before, they applauded her candidness.

At 11 am it was time for me to try out a new platform-a 45-minute panel discussion with four exonerees; Audrey Edmunds and Mario Victoria Vasquez from Wisconsin, and Mike Hansen and Koua Fong Lee from Minnesota. Julie Jonas, legal director for the IPMN would join me in introducing our exonerees, along with giving us a sense of what her organization does. There were a few sprinkles of rain in the air, but we proceeded as planned.

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Joan Treppa, exonerees Audrey Edmunds (11)*, Mario Victoria Vasquez (17)*, Mike Hansen (6)*, Koua Fong Lee (3)* and IPMN director Julie Jonas

Julie introduced Mike and Koua; two exonerees whose cases she had worked on. She quickly summed up the lengthy legal processes to free them. I introduced Audrey and Mario. I shared their circumstances and how we had met. We touched on the experiences of all four; the initial crime they were accused of, life in prison, how they found help and what their lives are like now. There was laughter and sadness. There were pleas to stay cognizant that these injustices exists and the importance of supporting organizations like the Innocence Project. Before long, the clouds dispersed and the sun appeared.

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Exonerees Mario Vasquez and Koua Fong Lee 

Following the discussion at approximately 11:55, something unexpected happened. I was leaving the stage when a gentleman approached. He and his wife had been driving by on the highway when they spotted our event. They felt compelled to stop. The husband presented me with a challenge to match all donations raised by 12:15 up to $1,000! He asked that I make an immediate announcement. I signaled to Chuck, our DJ, to pause the music. As I waited I wondered if we’d come close to collecting that amount or if we would lose out on this opportunity. The crowd was small and I had my doubts. But I made the announcement and hoped for the best.

At 12:15 a handful of us counted; $100…$200…$300…and so on all the way up to $1,000 and then some! We had done it and this couple assured us they would be sending a check. Although they wanted to remain anonymous, we couldn’t help but gather around to thank them for their generosity.

P1040808Exoneree Mike Hansen with girlfriend Shaylee and son Keegan

Still excited about our great fortune, I prepared for the second and final panel discussion at 1 pm with Attorney Steve Kaplan and Mike ‘Pie’ Piaskowski. They were discussing the WI Monfils case. Mike is the only one of six co-defendants (including the previously mentioned Keith Kutska) to be exonerated. Steve has been actively pursuing freedom for Keith for the past two+ years. At the last minute I asked my good friend and colleague Johnny Johnson to join us for this discussion because he is the retired private investigator who aided in compelling Steve to take on this case. I gave a quick case summary and proceeded with the discussion. Mike Pie shared his personal experience as the accused. Steve talked about the legal process of representing Keith. Johnny shared his viewpoint as an outside investigator and explained the proper techniques of interpreting evidence, conducting an investigation and his personal observations about this case. Steve also discussed the recent hearing for Keith in July of 2015 and what to expect in the coming months.

P1040822Joan Treppa, Steve Kaplan, exoneree Mike Piaskowski (5.5)* and Johnny Johnson

Both panel discussions were very informative and eye opening for those who gathered to listen. Both elicited reactions of dismay in regards to our judicial system and empathy towards the victims present that day. I felt that what we were doing was making a difference and helping the victims heal just a little bit more by affording them this opportunity.

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Mario Victoria Vasquez with Julie Jonas and her children Sarah and Sam

Amenities included two food vendors and Jeff Lee of ‘Art For You’. Jeff promised to donate 15% of his earnings that day to our cause. He sold four pictures. Chuck Brost, our DJ for ‘Tunes To Go’ was amazing as always.

P1040810                            Route 65 Pub&Grub

P1040805 Tater Boss Tater Tots

I am pleased to report I received checks from both the couple and from Jeff Lee. I had also received additional personal checks in the mail prior to and after the show. We raised a grand total of $3,080.50 which exceeded last year’s total. We are thankful to General Manager, Sue Stang of Route 65 Classics (which will be renamed Unique Classics on 65 as of September 1st, 2015) for allowing us free access of their facility.

The show ended with numerous awards for the best cars. Plaques and trophies were courtesy of friends, Pat and Rosemary Bonnett. They were handed out by WI exonerees Audrey Edmunds and Mario Victoria Vasquez. To truly appreciate this incredible experience you’ll have to come to next year’s show. I hope to see you then…

P1040832                                Top 10 Award  

P1040834 Best in Show Award

* ( ) Total years of sentence each exoneree served.

           

                                                

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