Tag Archives: prison reform

Foreword March…

A few weeks ago, friend and colleague, Erik Stewart posted on Facebook, some very thoughtful feedback about a large project I’m currently tackling; writing a book. Yes, an entire book that has occupied much of my time for the past three years with this past year being the most demanding.

I’ll be honest; I never thought I had it in me to compose anything more than a weekly blog. But with encouragement from so many like Erik, who are willing to devote time to scrutinizing my transcript as well as lend advice and provide me with helpful feedback, I’ve been able to fill empty pages with words that are evolving into a solid and compelling story. I am excited that the telling of this fantastic journey of the past seven years to aid in the release of five (originally six) men wrongfully convicted of murder in 1992 is coming to fruition.

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T-shirt logo for six innocent men

My reasons for writing this book are critical at a time of extreme and unfair biases and blatant cruelty toward others no matter where we look. I believe it is imperative that we, as a society, be cognizant of the injustices that inundate the lives of those around us and realize the necessity to help correct them. If all of us experienced the depth of emotional healing and gratification that accompany selfless actions, I believe we all would become better people.

Proof of action must accompany words of wisdom which is the embodiment of this literature. Being an example and inspiring those who read it to focus more on working through problems with patience and kindness rather than misguided judgement or criticism is the underlying message. As I work through a lengthy process of creating what I call someone else’s story through my eyes, the ultimate goal is to produce a book that is honest, informative and accurate that will spur discussion about wrongful convictions and about our flawed judicial system.

As depressing as the book’s subject matter is, the story will end on a positive note even though the overall journey remains unresolved. It depicts a moment in time that catapulted a situation from devastating, to one of hope and distinct possibilities, with an appreciation that the actions of complete strangers have brought forth comfort and peace of mind to its victims for the first time in years. I’ve been told that the story I’ve composed is a seamless extension of the book that compelled me to get involved, The Monfils Conspiracy; The Conviction of Six Innocent Men.

Today I am unveiling an excerpt that sets the tone for my entire book. It is the testimonial of an individual that I deeply respect and who has maintained the highest form of integrity despite immeasurable pain and suffering for two decades. I am pleased that Keith Kutska, the main suspect in this wrongful conviction case, has agreed to compose a Foreword for my book. I am honored to share it with you now. I read it to an intimate crowd of family and close friends of the men in prison at our 7th annual Walk for Truth and Justice in Green Bay, WI on October 28, 2016.

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Joan Treppa speaking at 7th annual ‘Walk for Truth and Justice’

Please consider these thoughtful words from an innocent man:

Foreword by Keith Kutska:  

While at the James River Paper Mill on the morning of November 21, 1992, Tom Monfils disappeared from his work area and was later found dead at another location in the mill. Despite the evidence pointing to suicide, the police assumed that an “angry mob” of his co-workers had murdered him. The investigation soon centered on six men who had been working at the mill that day. I know this because I am one of those six.

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(L to R) Decedent, Tom Monfils, Convicted men; Dale Basten, Mike Johnson, Mike Hirn, Rey Moore, Keith Kutska and exoneree Mike Piaskowski

Few people, unless they or someone close to them has experienced what the “Monfils six” and their families have endured, are likely to understand the anxiety and sense of helplessness that overtakes an innocent person while he cooperates with law enforcement, only to have it call him a liar, a thug, and a murderer. Few can know what an innocent person suffers as he loses his job and becomes the subject of media stories and public contempt for a crime he did not commit. They will not experience or know the frustration that an innocent person experiences watching his family suffer as the investigation and trial continue.

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Garrett waiting for his Great Grandad, Mike Johnson, to be released from prison

Most people assume, as I once did, that even if the police and prosecutors do not know or admit the truth, the jury will surely find it in the end. In the “Monfils six” case, like in other wrongful conviction cases, this did not happen. All six of us were convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, sentenced to life in prison, and separated from our families and everything else that made our lives worthwhile. From then on, we could only hope that someday the truth would become clear and the injustice corrected. Our days would be filled with the depression, despair, and disappointment that an innocent man endures as his appeals and other legal efforts fail, and he fears that he will never regain his freedom and life.

Michael Piaskowski exonerated in 2001

Exoneree Michael Piaskowski hugging his daughter, Jenny, upon release in 2001

Staying hopeful is difficult. Because I have been convicted, the struggle is uphill. That is something that every wrongfully convicted person soon learns. What I have also learned is that an innocent person can choose to maintain his own integrity. That is one thing that the system cannot take. I will continue to speak the truth and declare my innocence, just as the other members of the “Monfils six” have.

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Signs carried by supporters in 2016 Walk for Truth and Justice

After I had been in prison for more than fifteen years, I received a letter from Joan Treppa, a woman I had never met, but whose life was also changed by this case. She became a champion for all of us and for all wrongfully convicted people. If we regain our freedom, it will be because Joan cared and acted when she saw an injustice. I hope that this book inspires others to follow her path and become advocates for the wrongfully convicted.

–Keith M. Kutska

 

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Meeting Keith Kutska for the first time in 2015

A Call to Justice…

We all want to believe that our country has the best judicial system in the world. It gives us a sense of security…a sense that the system is infallable. However, having a best system and an accurate system are two diferent things. My friend, retired investigator, Johnny and I belived in the system for the most part until we became invoved in the Monfils case. We found that things weren’t so cut and dried. Aspects like unlawful deals, career snitches as witnesses, fear and intimidation tactics during interrogations, lies by the police to suspects, deceit, and dangerous communications between the police force and DA’s offices have caused a tipping of the scales and an atmosphere of inequality for those most vulnerable in our society.

What I say here is not new nor does it include everyone in the legal arena. For instance, Johnny, having a career in law enforcement could have chosen to deny the obvious in this case. Instead, he courageously acknowledged its degradation and embraced the idea of becoming part of the solution. The Minneapolis law firm we are working with has also seen this case for what it is. In fact, they’ve plenty of experience from working on other cases of wrongful convictions, on a pro bono basis.

But how could the majority of us have known to what extent the problem existed until the exoneration doors started opening up allowing throngs of innocent people through after decades of being locked up for crimes they did not commit? When I originally posted this blog in May of 2014 the National Registry of Exonerations reported a total of 1,367 people had been exonerated in this country since 1989. In 2017 that number reached 2,000. Note that these numbers represent only those who’ve been exonerated and doesn’t include the hundreds, even thousands of potentially innocent people in prison who will be exonerated in the future. Neither does it include those who are innocent but will never have their cases reviewed.

Some say these numbers are not large enough to warrant concern or institute changes in our laws. Is it better to incarcerate someone even if they are not guilty rather than risk allowing the guilty person to go free? In the past I’ve suggested that when you incarcerate the wrong person, the real perp is able to re-offend and is no longer under the radar of the authorities. Whatever your opinion, it’s no longer acceptable or safe to deny that this is a real cause for concern.

Regarding the Monfils case, having witnessed what was mistakenly perceived as a justified end because two important equations were omitted; the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty and the importance of full and impartial disclosure of all the evidence, is unsettling. Johnny and I believe the scales of justice are skewed which is evident in the few cases we’ve reviewed. Time and again, the same unethical and yes…illegal practices are apparent within the entire legal process, practices that have become acceptable but have no place in the process of determining guilt or innocence. Since when is it okay to have our rights carelessly tossed aside because of inadequate monetary funds or putting political advancement ahead of the duties the authorities are sworn to uphold?

It is too easy to convict without adequate evidence and costly and arduous to overturn a conviction. A thought we’ve considered is to form an objective panel of professional experts from all walks of expertise to review convictions before absolute incarceration occurs. We should be above reproach if we persist with the idea that we have the best system in the world. In an age of transparency this should be commonplace and readily accepted.

The objective is threefold; to determine whether justice was served, to determine whether there was adequate reasonable doubt presented and if the sentence is appropriate to the offence. All of these would help to guard against mistaken wrongful convictions, keep innocent families intact, save taxpayers money and in some cases, save lives!

Catching the most prevalent elements of corruption would be the main goal of this process. It would be deemed an honor to participate on this panel and a highly sought after opportunity. Sadly, in this society, we lack adequate people willing to give back, so a prerequisite for achieving licensure would be to donate 200+ pro bono hours per year to serving on this panel with the stipulation of having to disclose total yearly hours. Placement on the panel would depend on past experience and level of expertise. A revolving door of panelists would be enacted on a regular basis to give all appropriate professionals an opportunity to participate.

We are serious about the consideration of this idea. We understand that many details would have to be worked out prior to placement of any such panel. But we believe that as laws regarding wrongful convictions improve, a dialogue must commence about properly enacting them. The most important part of this equation is to institute change in an obviously flawed process.