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Apr 20, 2023
GREEN BAY – Interest in the Tom Monfils case continues over 30 years after his death as people filled seats at the Tarlton Theatre Friday evening for the sold-out world premiere of "Beyond Human Nature," a documentary about the 1992 death of the Green Bay paper mill worker and subsequent convictions of six of his coworkers. "Beyond Human Nature," 10 years in the making, revisits the aftermath of the death of Tom Monfils , a 35-year-old employee at the James River Corp. paper mill in Green Bay who was found dead at the bottom of a two-story pulp vat in November 1992. Six of Monfils' coworkers — Keith Kutska, Mike Piaskowski, Michael Johnson, Michael Hirn, Dale Basten and Rey Moore — were arrested after a 2½-year investigation, convicted during a joint trial, and sentenced to life in prison. Only Kutska remains in prison. The other five men have been released — one exonerated, the others on parole. One man has died. During the last three decades, all have maintained their innocence. Doors opened at 6 p.m., one hour before the movie started. Friends, families and strangers mingled at tables and chairs set up around the theater. The premiere, hosted by the Green Bay Film Festival , included the showing of the movie followed by a 30-minute panel discussion, led by director Michael Neelsen, that featured Piaskowski, Tom's brother Cal Monfils, and Kutska's retired appeals attorney Steve Kaplan. The four men discussed various aspects of the case and answered audience questions. Film reflects split opinions on the case "Beyond Human Nature" includes interviews from people with different opinions on the case. Neelsen said he approached the documentary in a way that doesn't take a particular side, but aims to express facts surround the case and opinions of people involved in the decades since. At the premiere, Neelsen invited everyone, regardless of their beliefs, to feel welcomed. Piaskowski is the only one of the "Monfils Six" who was interviewed for the film. He is also the only one to have been exonerated. In 2001, he was released from prison after a federal judge in Milwaukee ruled insufficient evidence had existed to convict him. In the years since his exoneration, Piaskowski has played a vocal role in advocating for the innocence of the other men. In "Beyond Human Nature," Piaskowski is one of multiple interviewees in the film who expresses beliefs that the investigation and trial led to the wrong outcome and conviction of six innocent men. Among others are the following: Cal Monfils expressed his belief that the six men were wrongfully convicted and that his brother's death was likely a suicide. Scott Stein, another James River Corp. employee, said Green Bay Police Department Detective Randy Winkler, the lead investigator in the case, once came to Stein's house and tried to get him to sign an affidavit that Stein said contained false information that he did not tell Winkler in an interview. Brian Kellner, another millworker, was a key witness in the trial who later tried to recant parts of his testimony that played a major role in the six men's convictions. His daughter, Amanda Williams, who was around 13 at the time of the investigation, said Winkler interviewed her at her home without her parents' knowledge. Winkler has denied under oath that this ever occurred. Kaplan said there was evidence that Monfils died by suicide, and that one of the main flaws in the investigation was the autopsy conclusion that Monfils received injuries to his body before he went into the pulp vat. A skull fracture Monfils measured ⅜-inch wide — the exact width of the blades at the bottom of the vat, he said. However, now-retired Winkler and former Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski, who is now a Brown County judge, express strong beliefs in the film that the six men were guilty of killing Monfils, and that the joint trial was fair. Winkler said he voluntarily took on the lead investigator role in the Monfils case, knowing it would be challenging and potentially damaging to his career. But he said he believes the six men were guilty and received a fair trial. Zakowski said he believes the six men were given a fair trial. Both Winkler and Zakowski expressed doubts in the film that the "Monfils Six" would have been found guilty if they had separate trials. Many people at premiere voiced support of the 'Monfils Six' While Neelsen said the film doesn't take a side, audible reactions during the film and audience questions during the panel discussion following the premiere revealed many of the audience members were sympathetic to the six men convicted of killing Monfils. Audience members laughed at Piaskowski's one-liners, and audibly groaned at points of the film, including a discussion of Winkler's investigative tactics and Zakowski saying, in his belief, Piaskowski was not exonerated but "mistakenly let go" by the ruling of a judge who didn't know all the facts of the investigation. During the panel, people took turns asking questions or expressing opinions. One person asked if Piaskowski received any compensation from the state after he was exonerated; Piaskowski said he did not. Another asked why Neelsen did not include information in the documentary about witness David Wiener, who testified at the trial about a repressed memory in which he said he saw Basten and Johnson carrying something heavy toward a pulp vat the morning Monfils disappeared, but a few months later he was convicted of second-degree reckless homicide for killing his brother. Neelsen said that storyline was cut out for sake of time, because it was so complex, and because Wiener declined a request to be interviewed for the film. One questioner wondered why Piaskowski wanted to be a part of the film. Piaskowski said he supports efforts to bring attention to the case, including multiple books, because changes should be made in the justice system. "This is the largest miscarriage of justice in Wisconsin state history, maybe the whole United States, I don't know," he said. "But it needs to be brought up again and again and again and again, for all eternity." One of the audience members to take the microphone thanked the filmmakers for telling the story. “I just wanted to thank you guys on behalf of him, since he’s passed away now. It would mean so much to him to have his name cleared," she said. Dale Basten was released from prison on parole for health reasons in September 2017 and died the following June. The woman said she could relate to parts of the film discussing Winkler's alleged investigative tactics with Kellner's children. "A lot of the stuff with Detective Winkler, he did that to other kids, too. He did that to us, too," she said. "And so I think a lot of people should know that.” Neelsen said he plans to feature people who support the six men's convictions at another panel during one of the upcoming screenings in Milwaukee. People involved in the case or directly affected were in attendance During the panel discussion following the film, a host from the Green Bay Film Festival asked the audience for a raise of hands of everyone who had either worked at the James River Corp. paper mill or who had family or friends tied to the case. Close to a quarter of the people in the room raised their hands. Beyond Piaskowski, Kaplan and Cal Monfils, Hirn and Johnson were also in attendance, along with other relatives of the "Monfils Six." Neelsen said he also heard friends and family of law enforcement involved in the case attended the premiere, but could not confirm any names. Neelsen said he believed it was important for a Green Bay audience to be the first to watch the film, and was grateful for everyone who attended the premiere and shared their stories. "We are not going to take an emotional story from a community, turn it into a movie and never come back. We’re invested in the city of Green Bay, and we wanted to hear their reactions first," Neelsen said in a statement. Where can you watch it? Following Friday's world premiere in Green Bay, "Beyond Human Nature" played Saturday at the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison. It will again play at the Milwaukee Film Festival April 29 and May 1. Tickets to the Milwaukee Film Festival area available on mkefilm.org . "Beyond Human Nature" will be available on Apple iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu and some cable on-demand platforms (iN Demand, AT&T, Vubiquity, DirecTV and Dish) beginning May 2. It can be preordered now on iTunes or Apple TV .
Steve Kaplan Investments
Steve Kaplan has made 5 investments. Their latest investment was in SuperTeam Games as part of their Seed VC on November 11, 2021.
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