Tag Archives: rally

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 Slow but Steady Pace…

A Walk for Truth; A Walk for Justice – Held on Friday, October 30, 2015 on the Brown County Courthouse steps in Green Bay, Wisconsin. For the past 5 years this event has transpired on or close to October 28-the day in 1995 in which 6 men were convicted of 1st degree intentional homicide for the murder of co-worker Tom Monfils at the then James River Paper Mill (now Georgia Pacific) in Downtown Green Bay.

The book published in 2009 that caught my attention called, The Monfils Conspiracy; The Conviction of Six Innocent Men, is described on their website as such: “Gullickson and Gaie trace the futile twenty-nine month investigation between the time of Monfils’ death and the convictions, pock-marked with dead end leads and overlooked evidence. Using solid facts, they lay bare the weaknesses, inconsistencies and secrets in the prosecution’s case and the jury’s erroneous rush to judgement. As recently as 2001, a federal judge ordered the release of one of the men, citing a lack of evidence, and further suggesting the original proof as unsound.” Six Innocent Men 

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Denis Gullickson speaking to the crowd before our march

I had traveled over to Green Bay on Thursday, October 29th. On Friday morning, my sister Clare and I were on our way to purchase candles for the event when we received a call from John Gaie. John said that Reporter Raquel Lamal from NBC 26 in Green Bay had called Denis for an interview regarding that evening’s rally. Denis had told her that he wasn’t available. John asked if I’d be willing to do the interview instead. I was excited to oblige, so I gave Raquel a call. She came to my sister’s house and expressed her intention to show the human side of this tragedy. This was great news. Raquel’s piece aired on the 5 pm newscast following the event. Raquel also broadcasted live during the event. Heartfelt thanks go out to Raquel for her efforts!

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Clare Martinson, NBC 26 Reporter Raquel Lamal and Joan at the rally

The event was filled with the usual energy and excitement. Denis Gullickson; co-author of the Monfils Conspiracy book, and emcee, started things off by sharing his usual upbeat thoughts. He walked us through the countless series of activities many of us had engaged in over the years while running back and forth between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Much of what Denis said felt like ancient history because of the inroads we’ve made since then. Way back when, we’d forged ahead during many uncertain times. It was a relief to now savor what appears to be a bright and hopeful future as each year brings additional interest and positive new developments for us to convey to the community.

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Photo taken in 2009 at a book signing at The Reader’s Loft in Green Bay. (L toR) John Gaie, Clare Martinson, Michael Piaskowski, Joan Treppa and Denis Gullickson

Denis included a major development from the past year; a 152-page motion had been filed on October 31st in 2014 by lead Attorney Steve Kaplan. It was a request for an evidentiary hearing on behalf of Keith Kutska-the main suspect in the case. The hearing itself would allow the legal team to present new findings to justify a request for a brand new trial for Kutska. That motion was granted and a 3-day evidentiary hearing took place on July 7, 8 and 22 of 2015. An astonishing 14 witnesses testified to evidence that should have been brought forth at the original trial. As of November 13, 2015, there has been no word on a ruling from that hearing.

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Joan in center with exonerees Michael Piaskowski (L) and Mario Victoria Vasquez (R)

I delivered a much shorter speech that consisted of my gratitude for the hard work that Denis, John, and exoneree Mike Piaskowski had put into the book. I highlighted the continuance of the bravery of the families and friends of the men. I let them know that they are a treasured part of my life and the focus of the inspiration instilled within me. My final thoughts were of two of my heroes standing alongside me onstage-two wrongfully convicted men who had been exonerated from that same county; Michael Piaskowski (from the Monfils case) in 2001, and Mario Victoria Vasquez, released earlier this year and who now supports our efforts to free the five remaining men. I stressed to those present that these two men represent real hope and are living proof that the other five have a significant chance of returning home. The crowd voiced their delight and we relished in this special moment.

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Family, friends and supporters touting signs carrying messages of innocence during the rally

The families and close friends of the five men had saved old signs from past rallies and worked hard to create additional ones for us to carry during our march around the block. Signs professing the innocence of all six men were highly visible from every angle. We carried candles to illuminate this anniversary with seven of us holding special candle holders with photos to commemorate all of the men unjustly represented in this case.

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(L to R) Decedent Tom Monfils, wrongly convicted Dale Basten, Michael Johnson, Michael Hirn, Reynold Moore and Keith Kutska and exoneree Michael Piaskowski

A few folks who were not related but had heard about the case in the news came to show their support. One of our youngest participants, Reece (orange sweatshirt), came with his Dad. Reece had read the Monfils book and insisted on showing his support by attending. Another young lady, Makayla, had contacted me a few months back expressing her interest as well. She had also read the book, attended the hearing in July and is currently doing a report on the case for school. She was not able to attend that evening but said that she would be with us in spirit. I believe that these young adults represent a new generation of open-minded supporters who view this overall issue in a very realistic way. And they will take its message seriously rather than exhibit apathy.

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Supporters march around the city block. 

These events; the motion, the hearing and our rallies represent major milestones after 23 years of setbacks and denials from prior failed attempts to appeal the verdicts. There is renewed hope and encouragement for those whose lives have been destroyed, that can never be shattered. For those who have lived this nightmare, it has been nothing short of a miracle, knowing that others now believe in them and care enough to act on their behalf. Their appreciation overflows whenever we get together and their warm hugs are filled with sincere gratitude. Most importantly, the strong bond between us will never be broken. And no matter what the future holds, it will not break our slow but steady pace to true justice for all involved!