Tag Archives: Minneapolis MN

Connections, Recognition, Opportunity and Highlights…

Each year, the annual Benefit for Innocence Gala for the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) promises to be better than previous ones. That certainly was the case this time around. On Thursday October 8, 2015, a small group of close friends and family members accompanied me for the fourth year in a row. It was held at The Depot in Minneapolis. The keynote speaker was Erin Moriarty; a CBS Correspondent for the weekly crime series 48 Hours.  Erin was quite approachable, engaging and genuinely sincere. What stood out for me was her compassionate stance on a mission she believes has everything to do with exposing real truths about how wrongful convictions occur. In her speech she talked about how her role affords her the chance to effectively help people. In some instances, having depicted wrongful conviction cases in the program has actually helped change the outcome in a positive way after the story aired. Erin’s overall message was one of personal fulfillment and the provision of hope for those whose stories have yet to be told.

CBS Correspondent Erin Moriary

Keynote Speaker Erin Moriarty

Erin was involved in a 48 Hours segment that aired on March 29, 2014 called, Last Chance, regarding the wrongful conviction of Damon Thibodeaux. Damon was in prison for sixteen years, fifteen of them on death row for a crime he did not commit. His sentence was carried out at the Angola Prison in Louisiana.

Because of that story, Erin has a direct connection with Attorney Steve Kaplan who is on the Board of Directors for the IPMN and was part of the legal team that worked on Damon’s case for twelve years. During that time Steve was Damon’s legal counsel and mentor and in 2012 when Damon was finally freed from prison, Steve was the one to pick him up at the prison gates. Together the two of them drove back to Minneapolis in Steve’s rental car. Steve had convinced Damon to move away from Louisiana and in with he and his wife until Damon could manage life as a free man. This amazing display of compassion prompted the IPMN to award Steve with the ‘Never Forgotten’ award, with Erin there as a witness. Steve, being the humble soul, agreed to accept it only if he wasn’t expected to give a speech. So when Steve accepted the award, he uttered a quick “thank you” and exited the stage to the sound of deafening applause. I am proud to be affiliated with Steve (for three years now). He’s the attorney representing my friend Keith Kutska; one of the five innocent men I advocate for in the Monfils case. I have the authority to say that Steve has since shown the same dedicated compassion towards Keith as he did with Damon. Here is a short clip of the noble work he does for his clients on YouTube.

Exoneree Damon Thibodeaux with Attorney Steve Kaplan

Exoneree Damon Thibodeaux with Attorney Steve Kaplan. Photo courtesy of the IPMN

A new friend who attended the gala with us is Allison Lee.  Allison’s brother David is currently serving a life sentence for murder and has been in prison for 29 years. Allison believes he’s innocent and has become more involved in her brother’s case in the past few years. She contacted me after learning of my letters to David since 2013. She wanted to set up a meeting to discuss his case. The meeting was held at my house with my associate Johnny Johnson; a retired private investigator. Allison had mentioned she wanted to contact one of the weekly TV series that covers cases like her brother’s so I arranged for her to join us at the gala. She was amazed at the coincidence and excited about the prospect of sharing her brother’s story with Erin Moriarty face to face. She took full advantage of her good fortune that evening. Erin was quite receptive to Allison’s pleas but added that she could not make any promises regarding the possibility of covering David’s case. All that mattered to Allison that evening was this rare opportunity.

Allison Lee, Joan, Clare Martinson, Erin Moriarty and Michael Piaskowski

Allison Lee, Joan Treppa, Clare Martinson, Erin Moriarty and exoneree Michael Piaskowski

Other friends joining us from Wisconsin were; exonerees Mario Victoria Vasquez and Michael Piaskowski and friend and author, John Gaie. My sister Clare Martinson also drove from Wisconsin with my niece Jordan Teague. Other friends in Minneapolis who attended were, Pat and Rosemary Bonnett, Sue Stang and hubby Jeff Johnson, exoneree Audrey Edmunds and her new beau Dave Anderson. We also met Sascha Matuszak, a multimedia journalist who recently connected with Mario and I and expressed a desire to learn about wrongful convictions. It was fun to reconnect with friends I don’t see often such as Erika Applebaum; former Executive Director of the IPMN, MN exonerees Mike Hansen and Koua Fong Lee and their wonderful families.

Mike,Joan, Jordan,exoneree Mario Vasquez and Clare     Mike and Joan Treppa, Jordan Teague, Mario Victoria Vasquez and Clare Martinson   

Exoneree Mario Vasquez, author John Gaie and exoneree Michael Piaskowski                 Exoneree Mario Victoria Vasquez, author John Gaie and exoneree Mike Piaskowski.

Dave with exoneree Audrey Edmunds

Dave Anderson and exoneree Audrey Edmunds

Some of you will recall that I met local reporter/attorney Ted Haller from Fox 9 news at last year’s gala and that the story he did earlier this year about our Wisconsin case was up for an award. http://www.fox9.com/archive/1826477-story Although Ted’s story did not win, his sentiments to me in that regard included having the ability to help people as a first priority. Ted was emcee at the gala again this year so he took the opportunity in the first few minutes of his speech to mention me by name and to share his aspirations to continue to do stories like mine. He also voiced an appreciation of having people like me on the front lines to create them. It was very touching. Ted’s praise also prompted my husband to tell me how very proud he is of me, which was the most amazing highlight of  the entire evening!

Emcee Ted Haller

Emcee Ted Haller 

Here’s a WCCO Ch. 4 Interview with Erin Moriarty.

Here’s a brief piece of Erin’s speech at the gala.

Here’s a link to more info on the Monfils case, a compilation of related news articles, interviews and recent activities.

A Benevolent Coup d’état…

I’m sharing a true story, a smaller component of what has shaped a much larger one. It’s an important step in my six year journey to aid in the eventual release of five innocent but incarcerated men from Green Bay, Wisconsin. It came about by way of two individuals with nothing more than a vision and infinite determination. How do ordinary citizens take on the establishment and win? Well…let me explain.

The good news is that a dried up 23-year old murder case has become big news again and is heading back to the courts in front of the original trial judge in the same county where the whole nightmare began? The bad news is that innocent men are still sitting in prison for a crime they did not commit. And the other real tragedy is that it wasn’t a crime at all. It was a suicide. So the real question is, how did that happen?

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The Monfils Conspiracy published in 2009

I became involved when I read a book about the case called, The Monfils Conspiracy. I started selling copies and compelled a retired private investigator named Johnny Johnson to buy one. Then there’s the involvement of a compassionate attorney named Steve Kaplan who came on board despite his intention to retire. He actually did retire, but went back to Fredrikson & Byron, PA, the big ass law firm here in Minneapolis, to work full time on this case after Johnny and I impressed upon him its many flaws.

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PI Johnny Johnson, Citizen Advocate Joan Treppa, Attorney Steve Kaplan

Up to this point the story is quite incredible but couple that with the fact that there had been no discussion of monetary payment, except for a brief one confirming there was none. I consider us damned lucky that Steve was okay with this. But after Steve had done a little research it was clear to him that what happened to these men was not right and he decided he’d be the one who’d change that. He got right to work and found others both at the firm and at other firms who were interested in helping because of their strong code of ethics. They climbed on board the freedom train knowing that their time would be donated. Then more attorneys from Wisconsin hopped on board.

Twelve months into it the team decided it was time to bring in experts to study what evidence had been uncovered and compile reports to support the new findings-things that were never disclosed to the judge or jury during the trial in 1995. But this would prompt an unavoidable discussion about funds. Our dedicated attorney explained that in order to solicit reputable experts we will need to pay for their services, which will be expensive. We understood this to be a necessary component to completing our mission. Talk of fundraising ensued. But that could take time and postpone the mission. Johnny and I had to think of something…and fast.

The story picks up speed here. It was not long after that discussion when Johnny sat me down. Johnny’s an Army veteran who references military language on occasion. “What would you say if I suggested we enact a Coup d’état?” I asked him to elaborate. “Let’s plop some dough-re-mi onto Steve’s desk and see what happens,” he said. We shared the idea with our spouses, Linda and Mike and received overwhelming support. The following day, Johnny and I went over to the law firm and set two checks down in front of Steve. He expressed deep gratitude, assuring us it would be put to good use. Steve walked us to the elevator and as the doors closed, we saw Steve run into Pam Wandzel, the pro bono department manager for the firm. We witnessed the handing over of the checks right before the doors closed. What happened after that was miraculous.

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Reynold Moore in 2011

Time to mention that the Wisconsin Innocence Project (WIP) had already been in the procdess of representing Reynold Moore-one of our five guys in an appeal, before the law firm came on board. In fact, they had recently hit a brick wall when their efforts to appeal Rey’s conviction in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2012 was denied. This news story explains.

Byron Lichstein (a young Steve Kaplan) was Rey’s lawyer for that appeal. When Byron later learned about the law firm getting involved, he was ecstatic. After our little visit with Steve, Byron received word of our actions. The WIP responded by matching our donation. Then another development occurred. The following week a significant amount came available on behalf of the law firm that would put the case back on track for an evidentiary hearing. The hearing for Keith Kutska is scheduled for July 8, 2015. Wow! Who knew?

My purpose for sharing this series of events is rooted in a desire to inspire. I am a citizen of this country. When I learned about people being wrongfully convicted, I stepped in. When Johnny J learned of a fellow detective unscrupulously coercing false testimony to convict six innocent men, he stepped in…and so on and so on. This is what we do and we expect no less from our peers. We, as free citizens must not think twice about taking action. We must never expect someone else to do what we have the ability to do. Start a coup; but one of benevolence not of violence. It is up to each one of us to make a difference, to set an example.

I’ll leave you with a sobering statistic: There have been close to 2,000 exonerations in this country since 1989. This isn’t a large number but consider this…According to the National Registry of Exonerations, government misconduct, which includes all levels on the judicial ladder, was the prime factor in 46% of all wrongful convictions. We have one judicial system. Let’s get it back on track.

A Refreshing Perspective…

In a recent blog I referenced a news story about the Monfils case that would air soon on a major Minneapolis TV station. In my six years of advocating for the men in this case, it’s rare to find stories absent of the biases and negative slants contained in the ones from the Green Bay area. They are prejudicial, full of inaccuracies and half-truths and they rehash the same so-called facts that lend nothing new for viewers to digest. If new details surface, such as those in recent months strongly suggesting the case was mishandled, those details get clouded over with less significant information categorized as “ridiculous” and “asinine” by those who would be better suited to refrain from commenting.

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Reporter/attorney Ted Haller and cameraman Josh Grenier filming Johnny Johnson

This Minneapolis take on an old criminal case is a refreshing diversion from the same ‘ol and it touches on multiple themes. Highlighted are efforts forged by those who came on board after the fact to devote time and resources getting to the heart of what really happened. This opportunity benefitted the additional victims of this tragedy-the families of these men, who’ve suffered for too many years in silence. I believe this fresh angle gives viewers a better picture of the circumstances surrounding the death of Tom Monfils which allows everyone to reach a plausible conclusion based on solid facts.

Reliable sources have suggested that the media in smaller regions tend to get caught up in the pandering of the local law enforcement community who is, in essence, their sole bread and butter. This is unfortunate and most likely inescapable. But what this means is that we as viewers receive questionable information sanctioned by those whose only interest is to share a specific point of view. Many of us realized early on that the only way to tell a more accurate, unbiased story was to place it in the hands of an objective entity. The Minneapolis area was an obvious place to start.

This segmentappeared on KMSP-Fox 9 in the Twin Cities on Sunday April 26, 2015. Ted and Josh gave viewers a refreshing perspective on a heartbreaking story.

*The story was later nominated for a Regional Emmy Award in media. It’s listing was in the investigative crime category. It came very close to winning.