CBC In Depth
INDEPTH: DAVID MILGAARD
The Milgaard Inquiry
CBC News Online | Sept. 26, 2008


David Milgaard in a Jan. 21, 1992 photo. (CP Photo/Fred Chartrand)
David Milgaard said he didn't do it. He said somebody else must have stabbed 20-year-old nursing aid Gail Miller to death in January 1969 and left her body in a snow bank.

Milgaard was charged with murdering Miller in May 1969. He was a 16-year-old hippie who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He and two friends – Nichol John and Ron Wilson – were on a road trip from Regina to Alberta; they were passing through Saskatoon when Miller was murdered. The group stopped to pick up another friend, Albert Cadrain, who lived near the spot where Miller's body was found.

Cadrain originally cast suspicion on Milgaard. A month after the crime, he told police Milgaard had blood on his clothing that day in January. Wilson and John implicated their friend, too – after police interviewed them for hours over several weeks.

On Jan. 31, 1970, Milgaard was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. A year to the day later, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal upheld his conviction. Less than 10 months later, the Supreme Court of Canada turned down his appeal.

Milgaard spent the next two decades – and part of a third – behind bars. All that time, he continued to say he didn't do it. He could have been granted parole – if only he'd said he was sorry for what he had done.

He refused.

Milgaard's mother – Joyce – believed her son was innocent from the day he was arrested. And she told anyone and everyone who would listen. Mostly, she kept telling people who refused to listen. Until, finally, they did.

On Nov. 19, 1991, then justice minister Kim Campbell directed the Supreme Court of Canada to review Milgaard's conviction.

On April 14, 1992, the high court ruled that Milgaard was convicted on suspect evidence and unreliable testimony. The court ruled he should have a new trial.

Milgaard was released after spending 23 years in prison. Saskatchewan Crown prosecutors decided against retrying him but he was not formally acquitted.

It took five more years until DNA evidence showed that Milgaard could not have killed Gail Miller. In 1999, the Saskatchewan government apologized to Milgaard and paid $10 million to him and his family for taking away more than half his life.

In the same year, another man – Larry Fisher, a convicted rapist – was found guilty of the rape and stabbing death of Gail Miller. The DNA evidence that had exonerated Milgaard pointed to Fisher, a man who lived a block from where Miller's body was found.

The day after Fisher's final appeals were turned down, the government of Saskatchewan said it could finally set up an inquiry to find out what went so horribly wrong in the investigation into Miller's killing.

On Feb. 20, 2004, Mr. Justice Edward P. MacCallum of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench was asked to head the inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard.

Besides looking at the investigation into Miller's killing and the wrongful conviction of Milgaard, the commission also sought to determine whether the investigation should have been reopened based on information subsequently received by the police and the Department of Justice.

The inquiry's report was not allowed to point fingers or recommend that any person or group face prosecution for its actions. Its job was to find out what happened and what can be done to make sure there are no more David Milgaards.

The inquiry cost $10 million and lasted a year. The inquiry was divided into four phases:

  • The investigation into Gail Miller's murder and David Milgaard's trial.
  • A look at information that came out after Milgaard's conviction and how the case was reopened.
  • Whether the investigation should have been reopened when police and justice officials received new information.
  • Systemic issues: How the system allowed Milgaard to be wrongfully convicted.
    • Four groups and six people were granted standing at the inquiry, which means they could submit names of potential witnesses, could question witnesses, had advance access to documents that will be tabled and could submit closing arguments.

      Larry Fisher, the man convicted in the murder of Gail Miller, was one of the people who has been granted standing. His lawyer argued that Fisher's reputation was at stake. As well, he was concerned that his client would be made a scapegoat for Milgaard's wrongful conviction.

      MacCallum agreed to give Fisher standing for the first two phases of the inquiry � but not to protect Fisher's reputation.

      "Given the savagery of the Gail Miller murder and Fisher's notoriety as a violent sexual offender, I feel compelled to observe that reputation is not his most vulnerable asset," MacCallum wrote in his decision.

      The fees for Fisher's lawyer came out of the inquiry's budget.

      Nearly a year and 10 months after the end of the inquiry, its final report was released. It found that police received a tip in 1980 that could have led to the real killer, 12 years before Milgaard was released from prison. "The criminal justice system failed David Milgaard," MacCallum concluded.

      The report concluded that police in Saskatoon received a tip from a woman that "might have led to Fisher as a serious suspect in 1980 had it been followed up."

      The report on the woman's visit to police was "received, filed, referred and possibly evaluated on a cursory basis within the Saskatoon police, but it went no further. It should have," the report said.

      The 815-page report, released in two volumes, provided a comprehensive review of all elements of the Milgaard case, from the circumstances surrounding Miller's death to Milgaard's conviction and what MacCallum called the "epic struggle" led by Milgaard's mother, Joyce, who always believed in her son's innocence.




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