“A Walk for Truth and Justice”
By the summer of 2010, almost a year had gone by since the release of the book, The Monfils Conspiracy. There was much talk about it by the media and residents alike. A copy had been given to me in the fall of 2009, shortly after it was published by John Gaie, co-author and book researcher, because of his association with my sister Clare. With John’s tutorial insight into this tragic story I absorbed the details and found it to be infuriating.
The idea that innocent people had been bullied and had landed in prison for a crime they did not commit was unacceptable. It compelled me to get involved, to meet John’s co-author, Denis Gullickson and the one person who had been exonerated, Michael “Pie” Piaskowski.
It was not until I attended a book signing in Green Bay with Clare on the day after Thanksgiving in 2009 that I was absolutely certain about how I could help. It was during an intimate and emotional conversation with Mike “Pie” that I decided to offer my assistance by starting my own book selling campaign at home in Minneapolis. I had offered to at least try to sell books to widen the expanse of awareness about this wrongful conviction case and to possibly find someone outside of Wisconsin who could help us in a legal capacity. But even though I sold quite a few books, no offers of assistance were forthcoming. I felt that something more needed to happen, something that would catch additional media attention. I understood by then how significant this case was so it made sense to believe that if we came up with an effective way to publicize it, we might just grab the attention of the legal community. I started thinking about the idea of a rally in Green Bay so I contacted John and shared my idea.
A conference call was soon set up between me, John, Denis, Mike and Joan Van Houten, the Stepdaughter of one of the five men, Michael Johnson. I cautiously presented my idea, not wanting to overstep my bounds. To my amazement they mentioned this idea had been considered in the past. It just had not been pursued further. With firm resolve I persuaded them to initiate plans to hold our first rally on October 28th, 2010.
Details were worked out and the evening finally arrived. Clare drove us to meet the others at the parking lot of St. Willebrord’s Church in Green Bay. What I witnessed was a modest assemblage of supporters. Family members, their friends and a handful of those who knew the six men showed up. I was inundated with introductions and curious stares. Fourteen years had passed since these men were sent to prison and many of these supporters had finally come to accept that there would be no hero to save the day…or them. And I had instigated an event that ripped open a painful semi-healed wound. I still remember meeting Kim Johnson, Joan’s Mother. I remember her saying, “…you just go on and you take care of those still at home and you make the best of the situation.” I will never forget the unmistakable sadness in her face as she said those words, or of my urgency to encircle her tiny frame with my arms as though she were a porcelain doll about to crash to the ground and break in a million pieces.
This group represented the blatant reality of the tragedy I had read about. This experience hit me like a head on collision with a speeding bus. What was I doing, messing with their lives? I didn’t know what to say to them. I hadn’t given a single thought to what it might do to them if this event was ineffective. I had experienced situations in my life that required courage but never anything close to what these people were going through. I had to pull myself together and find a way to make this work. I would make sure thay knew of my intentions to stay in this fight. No matter what happened I wouldn’t become part of a long list of adversaries who had let them down in the past.
When the media came, they interviewed Mike, the authors and Joan. Each of them had been through this before. I was especially captivated by Joan’s proficiency in front of the camera. She did not fear saying something inappropriate nor was she embarrassed about showing her emotions. She stood firm as she stared into the camera lens and laid down the raw facts surrounding her family’s harrowing misfortune. It was a way of healing and empowering for her to once again speak to a community about her beloved Stepfather and his innocence.
At a celebratory gathering following the rally it was decided that this attempt to revive what was hailed as “… the greatest travesty of injustice in Wisconsin’s history” by Ed Garvey, a long standing and respected attorney from Madison, Wisconsin, was a success. The story led on all of the major news stations later that night and into the next morning. This event gained well-deserved attention. I hoped that somehow, somewhere, someone would pick it up and come to our aid. For me, this was a point of no return. I was forever connected to this case and to these people. By the end of the evening I felt resolute in my involvement. We all were ready for a next step. However, help would not come with the expediency that we hoped for. Things would unfold slowly through a chance meeting at my mailbox. A conversation between me and Johnny Johnson, a retired private investigator with a highly specialized background in crime scene reconstruction would take us into a new phase-our own unofficial investigation.
As we embark on our fifth annual “Walk for Truth and Justice” slated for Saturday, October 25th, 2014, I look back at the roller coaster ride of the many failures and developments that have occurred since its inception. They’ve been worth the effort. From selling a few books all the way to gaining an entire legal team, I cannot fathom NOT being involved or how anything could have been done differently. This formula, as unsophisticated as it was, has worked so far. At last year’s event we announced legal representation for Keith Kutska, This year is shaping up to be even better. If all goes as planned, the news we uncover will ignite an irreversible and explosive reverberation throughout this community!