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?
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.
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.
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.