The other Wisconsin murder case that haunts many

Netflix subscribers remain captivated by the popular documentary series, “Making a Murderer.” But another murder case, 45 minutes away from Manitowoc County, continues to haunt and unfold in the legal system.

Fox 9 first told you about Joan Treppa, a citizen advocate in Blaine, Minnesota, who helped get Fredrikson & Byron, a Minneapolis law firm, to take the case on for free. The team of lawyers, led by Steve Kaplan, argued for a new trial in documents and in court. But on Tuesday, the judge, the same judge who presided over the original trial, denied the request for a new trial. Treppa says the team plans to appeal. IN-DEPTH - How a Minnesota woman found peace crusading for 6 murder convicts

Death in a Paper Mill

More than two decades ago, at the James River Paper Mill, in Green Bay, a mill worker named Tom Monfils was found at the bottom of a vat. A jump rope was tied around his neck and to a weight. Investigators soon learned, several days before his death, Monfils had called the police warning them Keith Kutska, a co-worker, might retaliate against Monfils because Monfils called 911 to say Kutska was going to take property home from the mill. Monfils asked that the call not be released. It was.

Investigators came to believe Kutska was so enraged by the call recording that he, and five others, beat Monfils to death before throwing him into the vat. A jury would find all six guilty, and the six were sentenced to life in prison. All remain in prison 23 years later, except for Mike Piaskowski, who was exonerated by a federal judge in 2001. For 23 years, all have maintained their innocence. 

Was it suicide?

Attorneys representing Kutska argued Monfils’ death was a suicide. They pointed to knots Monfils learned to tie in the Coast Guard. They pointed to a brother who believes it was suicide. They pointed to Monfils’ strange behavior before his death. The pointed to Monfils' own wife initially believing it was suicide. Attorneys also criticized the initial medical report that listed the cause of death as homicide. They critiqued the timeline. And they poked other holes in the case in a 152-page brief and 3-day hearing before the judge.

Manitowoc County and Green Bay

After advocating for the six men’s innocence for six years, Joan Treppa said the “Making a Murder” documentary did not surprise her.

“I wasn’t shocked, more anger. And frustration, and just wanting to tell these people, look this is not justice. This is not justice,” Treppa told Fox 9.

Treppa said she noticed several parallels between the cases. Both defendants were poor. Both initially had poor legal assistance. Questions were raised about police interrogations. And in both cases, police zeroed in on a suspect early on in the investigation.

“There’s so much pressure to close a case, and it seems to me in a lot of these cases, they pin point a similar person that maybe is different, Treppa told Fox 9. “Like in the Monfils case, Keith Kutska was kind of a loud mouth, people thought maybe he was kind of a bully. And so it looked clear to everyone that didn’t like him that maybe he was their main suspect.”

There is also an overlap of attorneys. John Bradley, the law partner of Dean Strang, one of Avery’s defense attorneys, has worked on the Kutska case.

A letter to Mr. and Mrs. Avery

Treppa wrote a letter to the parents of Steven Avery, telling them to please “tell your son, Steven, that many of us are rooting for him, and Brendan [his nephew who was also convicted], and in the name of justice. And please never give up hope.” Treppa also said in the letter that many “of us believe all of these men are innocent because of similar tactics used by law enforcement as in your son, Steven’s case.”

Treppa also wrote a letter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.