Oct 21, 1995, Monfils Homicide: Bastens Lawyer goes on Attack
Basten's lawyer Lack of physical By Paul Srubas Press-Gazette Dale Basten's defense in the Tom Monfils case began Friday with a blistering attack on the evidence the state had presented. Most of the lawyers gave opening statements at the trial's beginning four weeks ago. Basten's lawyer, Avram Berk, had reserved his right to make an opening statement until Friday, and he used it amid numerous objections by prosecutor Larry Lasee to try to point out weaknesses in what the state had presented. Basten, Keith Kutska, Mike Piaskowski, Rey Moore, Mike Hirn and Mike Johnson are accused of being party to homicide in Monfils' death Nov. 21, 1992, at the James River paper mill. Berk hammered on the lack of physical evidence in the case, such as the absence of blood stains to show where Monfils might have been attacked and the absence of injuries to Monfils' body that would prove more than one attacker was involved. "There is physical evidence to show who may have done this terrible crime, but unfortunately for the state, it's the handwriting of David Wiener, the day he tried to make it appear Monfils' death was a suicide," Berk said. "You heard the attempt of Wiener to give the hard sell to his suicide theory. We do have physical evi evidence cited dence: the phony suicide note." Testimony in the trial indicated someone had written a religious saying on a page in a phone book near Monfils' No. 7 paper machine. The message, "I DO NOT FEAR DEATH FOR IN DEATH WE SEEK LIFE ETERNAL," appeared in pencil on the page with Monfils' name and phone number. Testimony by two handwriting experts one of whom was called Friday on Basten's behalf discounted any notion the message could have been Monfils' suicide note. Both experts testified it wasn't Monfils' handwriting and probably was David Wiener's. Wiener testified he didn't write the message. He also testified that he saw Basten and Johnson carrying something heavy presumably Monfils' body near the paper pulp vat where Monfils' body eventually was found. Berk, in his opening statement Friday, told the jury Wiener couldn't be believed, because he said he saw Basten and Johnson carrying the heavy object no later than 7:30 a.m. on the morning of Monfils' disappearance. Monfils was seen alive later than that, Berk said. Berk suggested Wiener should be a suspect in the case and said the message in the phone book was "Wiener's cowardly attempt to cover his own tracks." Berk said police locked onto a theory too early in the investiga- launches attack Friday's Paperworker Dan Vanden Langenberg testified that Dale Basten's demeanor seemed normal when he ran into him at the ice machine near the No. 7 paper machine around 8 a.m. on the morning of Tom Monfils' disappearance. Vanden Langenberg also testified that he notified David Wiener that Monfils was missing that morning. Wiener reacted with surprise, Vanden Langenberg said. Wiener had played a tape for Vanden Langenberg earlier that morning that he'd gotten from Keith Kutska. The tape was of Monfils telling police Kutska planned to steal an extension cord from the mill. Hand-writing expert Bonnie Schwid testified that Wiener was probably the one who wrote a religious message in a phone book, on the page bearing Monfils' name and address, at the No. 7 paper machine. She also testified Monfils probably wrote the times of paper machine roll changes at 6:31, 7:30 and 7:34 a.m. on the No. 7 machine's production log that morning. Mike Hirn testified he went from his work station in shipping to the No. 9 paper machine about tion, and it prevented them from examining other possible explanations for what had happened on the morning Monfils disappeared. Lasee objected to some of highlights 7:15 a.m. on Nov. 21, 1992, because he wanted to hear Kutska's tape. Hirn said he listened to the tape, smoked a cigarette outside the No. 9 control booth and then went at Kutska's urging to say something to Monfils. "Why did you do that? It's not like you," Hirn said he told Monfils. Hirn said he went with Kutska and Rey Moore from the No. 9 machine to the No. 7 machine to find Monfils about 7:45 a.m., but they didn't see him anywhere. Hirn then returned to his work station. Hirn testified that he was aware he was the only person to testify that he accompanied Kutska and Moore on that walk. Others have testified that Piaskowski, Kutska and Moore went looking for Monfils at that time but that Hirn wasn't along. Hirn said his step-grandfather had told him he used to work with Monfils several years ago and Monfils "had screwed him over." Hirn said he knew people believed that indicated he had a grudge against Monfils. but he was not aware his step-grandfather ever knew Monfils until well after Monfils' death. Berk's opening statements on the; grounds that they were serving almost as closing arguments -disputing evidence already presented. Judge James Bayorgeon-agreed.