Five Down, One to Go
Michael Johnson Set Free, Marking Fifth ‘Monfils 6’ Release
BY JOAN TREPPA
“Mike Johnson’s wife, Kim Johnson, nearly had to be carried from the courtroom. She sobbed on the courthouse steps as her daughter, Dawn, held her.”
That’s a quote from the October 29, 1995 edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette when it hit newsstands the day after six guilty verdicts were handed to Keith Kutska, Dale Basten, Michael Johnson, Reynold Moore, Michael Piaskowski, and Michael Hirn inside a Brown County, Wisconsin Courtroom. The jury decided the six men had all conspired to murder their co-worker, fellow paper mill employee Tom Monfils.
Two and a half decades after that fateful day, as I sat at my desk putting the final touches on a writing project, my mobile phone pinged, alerting me of a Facebook notification. It was from Joan Van Houten, Michael Johnson’s stepdaughter. I stared at the bold letters in the short message: “Joan, Big Mike got his parole.”
Joan and I first met in 2010 when there was first talk of highlighting the case of the so-called “Monfils 6” more publicly. We discussed plans of holding a first-time rally for the six convicted men on the very courthouse steps where her mother, Kim, had collapsed in disbelief and grief the day of the verdicts. Joan and I also eventually partnered up to co-manage the Voice of Innocence Facebook page, a resource dedicated to ongoing developments in the Monfils case.
Michael (Mike to everyone who knows him) had told Joan and I that his release from prison was imminent. We were confident he was right because of his co-defendant Michael Hirn’s unprecedented release (on parole) in December 2018. I say unprecedented because anyone with knowledge of how the Department of Corrections (DOC) operates understands that prisoners who maintain their innocence are typically barred from being released on (more…)
Malcolm is A Little Unwell
Prominent PBS Journalist Documents his Descent into Mental Illness
Editor’s Note: After a routine yellow fever vaccine required for an assignment in Africa, BBC (and later PBS) foreign correspondent Malcolm Brabant suddenly descended into madness—literally. Following a near-fatal fever, he spent months in and out of hospitals and psychiatric wards in countries throughout Europe, convinced he was either God or Satan, talking to the dead, and coming perilously close to harming himself and his family. All the while, he recorded some of his bizarre unraveling on camera—and now, this alarming journey into (and out of) severe mental illness has been turned into a fascinating new documentary, Malcolm is a Little Unwell. The Reporters Inc. engaged in a recent Q&A with Brabant to find out more.
For those who aren’t familiar with you and your work, please enlighten them.
I’ve been a journalist for 45 years and for two thirds of my career I’ve been a foreign correspondent. I had some glorious years with the BBC when I was based in Athens and Miami. I covered the Bosnia war from start to finish and was named British Radio Reporter of the Year in 1993 for my coverage of the siege of Sarajevo. Among the more notable stories I broke in Bosnia were about the Serb-run rape camps and the massacre in Srebrenica.
In the U.S., I covered the Florida debacle in the 2000 presidential election, and I’m proud to say I was astute enough not to call it for George W. Bush, when many of the American networks did.
I’m currently living 35 miles west of London in a small town by the River Thames with my Danish wife Trine, who I met in Sarajevo during the war, and our 20-year-old son Lukas.
What is your current role with PBS NewsHour?
One of the best things to happen to me career-wise was in 2015 when I started working for PBS Newshour as a special correspondent covering European affairs. I had an intense time covering the European refugee crisis for a PBS Newshour series called Desperate Journey, which won a Peabody Award, America’s top broadcasting journalism prize. If that turns out to be the pinnacle of my career, then I can have no complaints.
I am effectively the Newshour’s Europe correspondent. I see my job as trying to put a human face on the geo-politics of Europe. Personally, I think I’ve got one of the best gigs in journalism. The past year was dominated by the turmoil in British politics and Brexit. But I covered a broad spectrum of European stories, such as the devastating fire at Notre Dame in Paris, the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings, President Trump’s failed attempt to buy Greenland, and the extraordinary story of Omar Al Shogre, a Swedish based refugee who survived Syria’s death camps.
What happened to your health, starting with your yellow fever inoculation? Why did you need this shot, and what transpired after it?
April 15, 2011 is branded into my memory. That’s the date I had the yellow fever shot at a clinic near my then home in Athens, Greece. I was obliged to have the vaccination for a freelance assignment on behalf of the UN children’s organization, UNICEF. I was due to travel to Ivory Coast in West Africa to shoot (more…)