GREEN BAY – A man serving life in prison for a 1992 murder of a paper mill worker is trying to get a new trial.
Keith Kutska's attorneys argue Tom Monfils died by suicide – not murder.
On Wednesday, the first of what is expected to be several days of testimony got under way in Brown County court.
As Keith Kutska sat quietly before retired Judge James Bayorgeon – the same judge that sentenced him to life in prison – a series of witnesses took the stand.
The majority of the morning's testimony centered on the original autopsy report by now-deceased forensic pathologist, Dr. Helen Young.
Young concluded that Tom Monfils' cause of death was drowning and strangulation and the manner of death a homicide. It was believed that Monfils was beaten before being found at the bottom of a paper pulp vat with a rope tied around his neck and a weight at the other end.
But according to a forensic pathologist brought in by Kutska’s defense team, the apparent injuries may not have been what they seemed.
"It's very uncommon for us – unlike television – to solve the whole puzzle with an autopsy,” said Dr. Mary Ann Sens, a certified forensic pathologist and professor of pathology and University of North Dakota.
"The swelling will mask subtle injuries and some of the swelling and decomposition may create artifacts that look like injuries. So you have to be very careful and often can't tell."
At Kutska's lawyers request, she and two colleagues reviewed the original report and its findings. Sens says her job is to confirm and deny possible stories and a homicide story is one that she couldn't reach with the facts she was presented.
Sens would have ruled the manner of death as “undetermined”.
However, on cross examination by Brown County District Attorney David Lasee, Sens said she found no faults with the previous pathologists' conclusion.
"In terms of the methodology employed by Dr. Young, I don't see anywhere in your report where you noted any concerns about the methodology of her autopsy?” asked Lasee.
"No,” she replied. “It looked like a fairly reasonable autopsy – the only thing I might have done differently is weigh the organs. But the procedures she used is pretty standard for forensic pathology."
Kutska's defense attorney during the original trial also took the stand. Royce Finne – a former county prosecutor – testified that he and other prosecutors didn't seek out an independent pathologist because the cause and manner of Monfils' death wasn't in question, but just who actually committed the murder.
Several other people took the stand and gave testimony, including Kutska's appellate attorney, who testified it was also his conclusion Monfils was murdered – and that a coworker who was never charged did it.
The hearing is set to reconvene Thursday morning.