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A witness changes his story

He was a carefree teenaged hippie just passing through Saskatoon on Jan. 31, 1969 — the same day nursing assistant Gail Miller was raped and stabbed to death in a back alley. On the strength of sketchy forensics and unreliable witnesses, David Milgaard was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. Twenty years later, his case made national headlines as his mother Joyce confronted politicians in a bid to free her son from jail. By the time he was cleared in 1997, David Milgaard had become one of the most famous examples of wrongful conviction in Canada.

It's been a wild two days at the Supreme Court of Canada as the review of David Milgaard's conviction continues. Milgaard himself has already testified, and next is Ron Wilson, who admits he lied at Milgaard's trial 22 years ago. On this, the second day of questioning for Wilson, Chief Justice Antonio Lamer interjects and says he's still not telling the truth. Lamer accuses Wilson of "lying through (his) teeth" before the Supreme Court and cites him for contempt.

Lamer's charge comes after Wilson is challenged on one aspect of his testimony by Hersh Wolch, one of Milgaard's lawyers. In the first trial, Wilson claimed to have been away from Milgaard for up to 20 minutes on the morning of the murder. This time, he says it was closer to ten minutes -- and then, upon Wolch's questioning, agrees he and Milgaard were never apart at all. CBC Radio's As It Happens talks to Wolch about what it all means.
. Because reviews of this kind were very rare, it was up to the Justice Department, the lawyers and the Supreme Court to determine the process for Milgaard's review. They agreed that five of Canada's nine Supreme Court justices would hear the review.

. Witnesses are not usually heard in the Supreme Court, and a witness box had to be specially built to accommodate them.

. The Supreme Court hearing began on Jan. 21, 1992. David Milgaard was the first witness, and it was his first chance to testify in court. His court-appointed lawyer had advised against it in the first trial.

. Besides Milgaard and his legal team, other parties with standing at the hearing were the Saskatchewan government, the federal justice department, and Larry Fisher. All were entitled to call and cross-examine witnesses.

. Ron Wilson was one of two of David Milgaard's companions heading into Saskatoon on the day of the murder. On the first day of his testimony, he said he had lied at the first trial because he was under police pressure to implicate Milgaard. He was already in jail on another offence at the time, and he said he was concerned the police would blame him for the murder if he didn't pin it on Milgaard.

. Also on the stand that day at the 1992 hearing was Nichol John, Milgaard's other companion in 1969. Upon repeated questioning by police, John told them she'd seen David grab a young woman. At trial, she refused to repeat the story. Nevertheless, Crown prosecutor Bobs Caldwell managed to introduce her police statement into the court record and the minds of the jurors -- a legal precedent now known as "Milgaarding" a witness.
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: Jan. 23, 1992
Guest(s): Hersh Wolch
Host: Michael Enright
Duration: 4:57

Last updated: September 11, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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