Overview of the Monfils Case

On November 22, 1992, Tom Monfils was found dead at the bottom of a pulp vat at the James River paper mill in Green Bay, WI. Referred to as the “Monfils Six,” co-workers Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Michael Johnson, Rey Moore, Keith Kutska, and Michael Piaskowski were handed life sentence convictions on October 28, 1995, for the murder of Monfils. The convictions were the culmination of three years’ worth of coercive police interrogation and investigation techniques, dubious prosecutorial tactics, and ineffectual juror participation. The sad irony about the case is that the most probable cause of Monfils’ death is suicide.

On November 10, 1992, Monfils had made a call to the Green Bay Police Department (GBPD) to report that Keith Kutska was going to steal scrap wire from the mill. Kutska was suspended from work for a week as a result. On November 20, Kutska procured the cassette tape recording of Monfils’ call from the GBPD. Keith returned to work on November 21 and confronted Monfils with the tape and obtained Monfils’ admission that he had reported Kutska to the police. Monfils went missing soon after and was found the next day in the pulp vat. The GBPD assumed Kutska was the culprit from the start. The entire investigation centered on Kutska.

On the day the body was found the GBPD tried many times to hook and hoist it over the top of the vat before finally removing it through an access portal near the bottom of the vat. The GBPD also neglected to cordon off the area with crime tape allowing officers and mill workers alike to trample through the area all day long. To the frustration of the GBPD, the Monfils’ investigation went nowhere for a year. No one had any useful information and everyone’s testimony supported Keith’s innocence…and their own.

Things changed on January 4, 1994 when Randy Winkler became the lead detective on the case. He quickly adopted the policy of “not letting the truth get in the way of a good story” and spent the year coercing “witnesses,” creating stories about the circumstances of Monfils’ death and its fallout, and altering investigation documents.

The Monfils Six were arrested in April of 1995 and their trial began in September. District Attorney (DA) John Zakowski was permitted to try all six men together. Zakowski also established low expectations regarding the case. Assistant DA Larry Lasee opened the trial by telling the jury, “If details are extremely important to you, you’re going to be disappointed. There are gaps.” Zakowski also relied on the false testimony of a “jailhouse snitch” and David Weiner, a co-worker of Monfils. Weiner was looking to cut a deal because, at the time of the Monfils trial, he was in prison for reckless homicide in the killing of his own brother.

Of the 16 member jury, only one of them had any education beyond high school. One juror admitted she couldn’t tell the defendants apart after two weeks, and other jurors were reportedly seen catnapping during the trial. At the time of Michael Piaskowski’s exoneration in 2001, “a total of five federal judges had essentially graded this jury as ‘unreasonable’ and irrational’ and charged it with failing its duty.” This is evidenced in a 2007 statement by a Monfils juror who stated, “It is too much to process and too easy to just make the same decision for [all] of the defendants.”

Monfils’ co-workers believed he had psychological problems. He was obsessed with death and dying and it was rumored that his marriage was about to end. This knowledge, coupled with the fact that he used to frequently tell co-workers about the many drowned suicide victims he had recovered, with heavy objects tied to their bodies, while serving in the Coast Guard, suggests that he may have been willing to take his own life on the morning of November 21, 1992.

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