FEDERAL appeals court upholds release of defendant in vat death at Wisconsin paper mill

Wednesday, July 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ A man sentenced to life in prison in the murder of a co-worker who was found beaten and suffocated in a paper mill vat was wrongly convicted and should stay free, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Mike Piaskowski, of Green Bay, was among six men convicted in 1995 of murdering Thomas Monfils, 35, whose body was found on Nov. 22, 1992, in a two-story vat of mud-like pulp with a weight tied around his neck.

Much of the prosecution's case against Piaskowski was ``conjecture camouflaged as evidence,'' Judge Terence T. Evans wrote for the three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. ``The jury's conclusion that Piaskowski participated in the beating and/or conspired with the other defendants to kill Monfils is speculation.''

The decision upheld a January ruling by U.S. District Judge Myron Gordon of Milwaukee, who overturned Piaskowski's conviction on grounds that the evidence against him was insufficient.

Piaskowski, 51, left a state prison in Waupun in April on $300,000 bond and is now working as a delivery man in the Green Bay area.

``He was absolutely elated when he found out,'' said Terry Enright, a family friend. ``He had to pull over so he could compose himself.''

Testimony showed one of the defendants believed Monfils had told police of an alleged plan to steal electrical cord from the James River Corp. mill in Green Bay. Monfils disappeared on the job and his body was found the next day.

A state Justice Department spokesman said prosecutors hadn't decided whether to appeal the ruling.