Was it Murder? The Essence of a Wrongful Conviction Case…

Welcome! This week I’m putting forth a new series which examines a recent 152-page motion ❶ in regard to a 1992 murder case that questions the legitimacy of the convictions of six mill workers, Keith Kutska, Rey Moore, Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Michael Johnson and Michael Piaskowski. This motion was filed in a Brown County Courtroom in Green Bay, WI on October 31, 2013 on behalf of Keith Kutska. All six men were given life sentences in 1995 for the murder of co-worker, Tom Monfils. Despite the fact that all of them were tried jointly, only one of the six, Michael Piaskowski, has since been exonerated in 2001 while the others remain in prison for a crime that I believe never happened.

Before my involvement, I knew nothing about this case. I didn’t know any of the people affected by it. In fact, I don’t have a legal background. And I had no knowledge about wrongful convictions prior to 2009. I simply read a book ❷ that was published in 2009, given to me by one of its authors. People ask me how I am able to advocate so passionately about something that has never affected me personally. It is because I can relate to these people on an emotional level because of my upbringing and I was at a juncture in my life where I could get involved. But mostly it was because of a sense of civic duty and a belief that it was the right thing to do.

I’m often asked, “Why was one of the men released and not the others?” This has is the $64,000 question. But with the vast amount of time and prohibitive costs involved in the appeals process it is no wonder. Plus, the number of men involved in this case and having to appeal separately, even though they were tried together, many years of litigation are inescapable. I strongly believe the this singlr case is indicative of how flawed and unfair our overall judicial system is.

My aim in bringing attention to this specific case is to educate people about wrongful convictions. While pursuing legal help for these men I’ve been gifted with a rare insight into an unseen tragedy that has caused alarming devastation to countless innocent lives. This case represents an extreme example of the grim realities and lends an overview of the aftermath. I cannot stress enough the importance of how we as a society must be more aware of the mistakes that plague our judicial system and eliminate the apathy that is widespread.

Because this case is currently in litigation, details I’m able to share will be limited to only that which is disclosed in the motion and in the book. But I will add my personal insight when applicable. Content I’ve highlighted is courtesy of the Minneapolis law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, PA. It’s the result of a twenty-one month reinvestigation. I’ve posted it verbatim and in italics.

With that said, let’s get started. This segment covers a brief introduction as written in the beginning pages of the motion.  Be advised; it contains disturbing details.

Incident at the mill…

“At approximately 7:42 a.m. on November 21, 1992, Tom Monfils – despondent, shamed and angry – left his work area at the James River Paper Mill and walked toward the entrance of a nearby airlock passageway. As he neared the airlock, he picked up a 49-lb weight and proceeded through the airlock. He then entered a storage area where his jump rope was hanging on a railing. With both the rope and weight in hand, Monfils walked to a large vat containing approximately 20,000 gallons of liquid. There, he climbed the steps to the top of the vat, tied one end of the rope around his neck and the other end to the weight, and entered the vat where he suffered traumatic injuries and died from drowning in the liquid. The next evening, workers found Monfils’ body in the vat with the rope and weight tied to him.

After a 2 1/2 year investigation, Kutska, and five other mill workers, were convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison for Monfils’ death. The prosecution’s theory was that after Kutska had learned that Monfils had reported him to the police for stealing a piece of electrical cord from the mill, Kutska fomented “an angry mob” of his “union brothers” that viciously beat Monfils at a water bubbler at approximately 7:45 a.m. and then disposed of his body in the vat at approximately 7:50 a.m. on November 21, 1992. That theory embraced the conclusions of the medical examiner, Dr. Helen Young, who concluded that Monfils had been beaten and then placed in the vat where he died.

Dr. Young’s homicide determination was, however, erroneous and rested on a series of provably false assumptions, as well as her ignorance regarding the engineering design and operating factors impacting the movement of Monfils’ body in the vat. As forensic pathologist, Dr. Mary Ann Sens, states in her report, Dr. Young also lacked any scientific or medical basis for reliably and accurately determining that Monfils’ death was the result of a homicide and not a suicide. Indeed, there is ample and compelling evidence that Monfils had taken his own life.”


Water fountain “Bubbler” (center) Photo courtesy of ‘The Monfils Conspiracy’ book.

Corroborated Facts: The bubbler was a public area in a highly visible location within the mill. During the trial, it was determined that this is where the six men beat up Tom Monfils. But no blood or trace evidence was ever found in the immediate or outlying areas within the mill. In fact, no physical evidence was ever produced at trial to suggest a beating had taken place. Numerous mill workers were threatened throughout the investigation with the loss of their jobs if they did not admit to witnessing a beating at the bubbler that morning. Only one person succumbed to pressure and eventually gave a statement in support of the prosecution’s theory of a beating, though this person did not actually witness any beating. This person later recanted his statement.

During the investigation, the six men who were charged were promised partial or total immunity in return for their admission to being a bystander during a confrontation at the bubbler. All of them refused and said that they saw nothing. To this day, they maintain that there was no beating. To this day they profess their innocence.


Link to more information about the Monfils case

152 page motion

❷  Purchase The Monfils Conspiracy


11 thoughts on “Was it Murder? The Essence of a Wrongful Conviction Case…

  1. Joan Treppa Post author

    Reblogged this on Joan Treppa and commented:

    7-6-2015 As we approach the evidentiary hearing in Green Bay, WI which is three days away, I want to reflect back on an earlier post that introduces the legal motion filed in the fall of 2014…

  2. Joan Treppa Post author

    Thank you for saying so Carol. You are greatly appreciated. Knowing these folks and witnessing their pain firsthand keeps me inspired to be a compassionate voice for them because of how deserving they are to achieve what you and I have always had, freedom to live their life as they choose.

  3. gary

    I did a lot of years with Michael hirn in prison, his son and my daughter played in the visit room together, we had a lot of Long conversationt about his and my case , I would bet my life on Michael that he had Nothing to do with the murder, he is the Nicest guy I have ever had the Pleasure to met ,when you met some Prisoners you can tell the BUllshit Within 10 to 15 minutes after talking with them, But when I talk to Mike hirn you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice that this man did not do this, After reading his case and talking with him and Being around him for so long i could tell that this man has been railroaded by the police and the D.A. and the criminal justice system, I know all too well on how they will railroad you and make something out of nothing, The D.A. gets up there and turned a hard working United States American citizen and a loving father and a loving son into a monster, Mike worked hard, he is a loving man to his family and friends, And I am honored to be his friend

    1. Joan Treppa Post author

      Thank you for your kind message Gary. I too, believe Mike Hirn is innocent along with the other four men. Your portrayal of him being railroaded is one I use often when describing this case. In the past five years, I have written to and met all but one of the men in prison. I fully agree that these men were unfairly characterized for the simple fact that officers at the Green Bay Police Dept. made a fatal error in releasing the cassette tape of Tom Monfils call to them, and it became a priority to cover that up. In learning of the details of other people who have been exonerated over the years, I see a distinct bullying aspect across the board in all of them. I see decent folks’ names tarnished in the name of justice and I see the authorities fighting a battle that has nothing to do with integrity or true justice but of saving face. Fortunately, in the short time I’ve spoken on their behalf in an effort to expose what I’ve witnessed as a big example of a plague on the judicial system, I do see a shift in opinions and attitudes regarding this overall issue. I believe that over time, this type of occurrence; fabricating situations in order to get a conviction, will become harder to accomplish. I wish you all the best my friend.

      1. Gary Perry

        Thank you for your quick response,
        Is he still at foxlake, that is were I release from 5 years ago, and were I said goodbye to him and believe that he would be released within the year, I am going to write him soon,
        if there anything I can do to help Mike and the other’s , like pass out flyers or something else and try to get them Justice I mean I’m in Milwaukee and I don’t have a car and I’m not highly educated,but anything I can do to help please let me know, and thank you for all you are doing, GARY

      2. Joan Treppa Post author

        Hi Gary. Mike was moved to Oakhill a few months ago. They continue to mess with his parole status as they do with all of the men.
        Here is the address:
        Mike Hirn #304725
        Oakhill Correctional Institution
        PO Box 938
        Oregon, WI 53575
        Thank you for your generous offer of help. If I come up with ideas of how you can, I will let you know. I will also tell Mike I heard from you in my next letter to him.

      3. gary

        That was my last stop also, I will get a letter to him a.s.a.p, and thank you for the info, gary

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