Calgary

David Milgaard speaks on Wrongful Conviction Day about his experience

David Milgaard and his lawyer spoke to a crowd at the second annual Wrongful Conviction Day in Calgary. He was arrested at the age of 16, and spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

'I spent most of my life living this horrible nightmare,' said David Milgaard

After spending 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, David Milgaard is an advocate to those who are wrongfully convicted. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

If he's angry or bitter you wouldn't know it. 

David Milgaard's soft, raspy voice filled a lecture theatre at Mount Royal University on Friday, and when he spoke it was the only sound in the room. 

"It really makes a difference when we care about what is right and what is just," said Milgaard.

The 63-year-old addressed the crowd at the second annual Wrongful Conviction Day in Calgary. Milgaard was arrested at the age of 16, and spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Two decades later, lawyer Hersh Wolch came into the picture.

Hersh Wolch, the lawyer who helped free David Milgaard, speaks at the second annual Wrongful Conviction Day. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Wolch is a veteran defence lawyer with a history of helping exonerate those who are wrongfully convicted. 

"We don't pay any attention to the presumption of innocence," said Wolch. "Our presumption of innocence is really watered down."

Take the Blairmore homicides of two-year-old Hailey Dunbar Blanchette and her father, Terry Blanchette.

Wolch puts it to the room; who believes the accused, Derek Saretzky is innocent?

Nobody moves. 

Put that with what Wolch describes as 'junk science,' false confessions, self-serving snitches, underfunded legal aid and an inadequate defence, and you have some of the factors that can lead to innocent people ending up in prison. 

Neither Wolch nor Milgaard are ignorant to the fact that most people in jails and prisons are guilty, but that's no comfort to the few who are not.

"It's horrible to be inside prison," said Milgaard. 

Independent review panel wanted

Both Wolch and Milgaard want an independent review board modeled after the one in the U.K. The Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice.

Commissioners have the power to send cases back to the courts for fresh appeals.

"I spent most of my life living this horrible nightmare and it's time to say enough," said Milgaard.

It was family that Milgaard missed most during those 23 agonizing years in prison. He says although he respects his past with advocacy work, it's his two young children — aged seven and nine — that are his future. 

now