Police apologize to Milgaard as hearings end

It's been a long time coming, but David Milgaard has received an apology from the Saskatoon Police Service.

It's been a long time coming, but David Milgaard has received an apology from the Saskatoon Police Service.

It came on the last day of hearings into why Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the 1969 murder of Gail Miller in Saskatoon,a crime he did not commit.

David Milgaard testified at the inquiry from Vancouver via videotape. ((CBC))

The inquiry examining what went wrong in Milgaard's casebegan on Jan. 17, 2005, and hascost about $10 million, with much of the money going toward lawyers fees.

Lawyers for the police, prosecutors and officials spent most of Monday arguing there is no evidence that Milgaard's tragedy was anything but a series of unfortunate accidents. Critics said police had "tunnel vision,"saying once they had Milgaard in their sights, they refused to properly consider evidence that would lead them to a different suspect.

Rick Elson, the lawyer representing Saskatoon police, said there was no evidence to indicate Saskatoon police did anything improper to lead to that conviction. He also said he was instructed to apologize to David Milgaard and his family on behalf of the Saskatoon police service.

"I am sorry neither he nor his mother is here today," Elson said. "My apology is extended for the fact that Mr. Milgaard was convicted for an offence he did not commit."

Milgaard was released from prison in 1992 after the Supreme Court ruled there were problems with the case. He was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1997. The same evidence was used to convict Larry Fisher of the rape and murder of Miller.

One of the issues the commission dealt with was 20 years of hard feelings between Milgaard and justice officials who dealt with his case.

For most of that time his mother, Joyce, ran a one-woman crusade to have her son released. Eventually she would be assisted by private investigators, lawyers and journalists.

Serge Kujawa was asked about calling David Milgaard a 'kook.' (CBC)

In the course of that campaign, Joyce Milgaard and her supporters accused many officials of mishandling David's case. One of those criticized was Saskatchewan's former head of public prosecutions, Serge Kujawa, who would later go on to be a member of the Saskatchewan legislature.

His response while an MLA was to refer to David Milgaard as a "kook," Milgaard's lawyers as prostitutes and the Supreme Court of Canada as "silly" for ordering a new trial.

Lawyer Garrett Wilson, who represented Kujawa at the inquiry, tried to put those comments into context Monday.

"Mr. Kujawa would be the first to admit he was ill suited to politics, but that was his position," Wilson said.

"However when the allegations came about his conduct over his handling of the Milgaard and Fisher files and he responded, unfortunately, as he admitted on the stand here, inappropriately… little knowing he was providing further fodder for the Milgaards who were after only media highlights."

At the end of the day, Wilson argued, there is no evidence to indicate that Kujawa ever made a link between a serial rapist active in Saskatoon in 1969— who turned out to be Fisher— and the murder of Gail Miller. Wilson also said there wascertainly nothing to indicateKujawa hid important information.

David Asper says the inquiry shouldn't criticize Milgaard's supporters.

Kujawa wasn't the only one with reputation on his mind. David Asper, who was one of Milgaard's lawyers in the late 1980s, has asked the commissioner not to criticize the actions of those trying to help Milgaard.

Milgaard is from Winnipeg and now lives in Vancouver. In 1999, he received $10 million in compensation from the federal and provincial governments.

The inquiry has been adjourned. The commissioner, Alberta Queen's Bench Justice Edward MacCallum, is expected to finish his report by mid-2007.