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David Milgaard (born July 7, 1952 in Winnipeg, Manitoba) is a Canadian who was wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller. He was released and compensated after spending 23 years in prison.
Arrest and trial
In January 1969, 16-year-old Milgaard and his friends Ron Wilson and Nichol John took a trip across Canada that included some drugs. Wilson later testified against Milgaard, alleging he had stolen a flashlight from a grain elevator outside Aylesbury, Saskatchewan.
While the friends were in Saskatoon, a 20-year-old nursing student, Gail Miller, was found dead on a snowbank. At the time Milgaard and his friends were picking up their friend Albert Cadrain, whose family was renting out their basement to Larry Fisher.
Tipped off by Cadrain, who admitted he was mostly interested in the $2000 reward for information, British Columbia police arrested Milgaard in May 1969 and sent him back to Saskatchewan, where he was charged with Miller's murder. Cadrain testified he had seen Milgaard return the night of Miller's murder in blood-stained clothing.
Wilson and John were also called to testify against Milgaard. They had told police they had been with him the entire day and that they believed him to be innocent but changed their stories for the court. Wilson later recanted his testimony, saying he had been told he was under suspicion and wanted to alleviate the pressure on himself.
Milgaard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on January 31, 1970, exactly a year after Miller's murder. He was 17 years old. Twenty-three years later he was exonerated.
Milgaard wrote of the hardships he faced in jail, especially the difficulty of having his case reviewed, in his foreword to Gary Botting's book Wrongful Conviction in Canadian Law (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2010).
Review and release
Milgaard appealed his conviction several times but was blocked both by bureaucracy and by a justice system unreceptive to those unwilling to admit their guilt. His formal application was completed in 1988 but was not considered until 1991 after Liberal MP Lloyd Axworthy addressed Parliament: "...I wish to speak of a travesty of justice. I speak of the plight of David Milgaard who has spent the last 21 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Yet for the last two years, the Department of Justice has been sitting on an application to reopen his case. But rather than review these conclusive reports, rather than appreciate the agony and trauma of the Milgaard family, the Minister of Justice refuses to act."
Parliament acted, and rejected Milgaard's application for a conviction review. In her 1996 autobiography Time and Chance, former prime minister (then justice minister) Kim Campbell devotes a chapter to Milgaard. In it she says one of the main reasons for the delay in acting on the request to reopen his case was because Milgaard's lawyers kept adding new documentation to the file, thereby slowing down the start of her review.
Supreme Court of Canada reference and subsequent events
The federal government submitted a reference question to the Supreme Court of Canada, which recommended Milgaard's conviction be set aside. Campbell, as justice minister, ordered that pursuant to section 690 of the Criminal Code a new trial be held on the murder charge against Milgaard. However, the government of Saskatchewan announced it would not do so, instead entering a stay of proceedings in the case against Milgaard, releasing him from prison on April 16, 1992. On July 18, 1997, a DNA laboratory in the United Kingdom released a report confirming that semen samples on the victim's clothing did not originate from Milgaard - to all intents and purposes clearing Milgaard of the crime. The Saskatchewan government then apologized for the wrongful conviction. On July 25, 1997, Larry Fisher was arrested for the murder and rape of Miller. On May 17, 1999, the Saskatchewan government announced that a settlement had been reached with Milgaard, and that he would be paid $10 million CDN compensation.
On September 30, 2003, the Saskatchewan government announced that a royal commission would investigate Milgaard's wrongful conviction, and on February 20, 2004, Justice Edward P. MacCallum was announced as the commissioner. Douglas Hodson was later appointed as commission counsel.
Milgaard inquiry results
On September 26, 2008, justice minister Don Morgan released the findings of the Milgaard inquiry. Among its recommendations were a call for the federal government to create an independent body to review allegations of wrongful conviction. The report noted that if such a body had existed, Milgaard might have been released from jail years before he was.
Linda Fisher, ex-wife of Larry Fisher, visited the Saskatoon police department in 1980. She told the police that she believed her former husband had likely killed Miller. The Saskatoon police department did not follow up on her statement. The inquiry report released by MacCallum states that “[w]hile MacCallum noted that Milgaard's family members mounted a formidable public awareness campaign, their efforts also created tension and resentment within the police and the Crown's office.” This is seen by some as an excuse for the failure of the Saskatoon police to investigate Larry Fisher.
The real killer
Larry Fisher lived in the neighbourhood where Miller was raped and murdered but at the time he was not seriously considered as a suspect.
Fisher was arrested on July 25, 1997 in Calgary. He was convicted on November 22, 1999, and sentenced to life in prison on January 4, 2000. Due to the laws at the time of the crime, however, he was eligible to apply for parole in 10 years, rather than the current 25, after the sentence. Before this conviction, Fisher had served 23 years for numerous rapes in Winnipeg (Manitoba), Saskatoon and North Battleford (Saskatchewan).
The Milgaard case in popular culture
To date, the Milgaard case has been the subject of three movies: the 1992 documentary The David Milgaard Story, directed by Vic Sarin, the 1999 docudrama Milgaard, directed by Stephen Williams and starring Ian Tracey, and in an episode of the documentary series Crime Stories, produced by Partners in Motion.
- CBC News (2004-02-20). "Alberta judge to head up Milgaard inquiry". CBC.ca. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
- "Police missed opportunity to reopen case". The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. September 27, 2008.
- CBC News (2008-09-26). "Joyce Milgaard 'delighted' by report recommendations". CBC.ca. Retrieved 2008-09-26.
- "CBC Digital Archives - Migaard gets $10 million compensation package". Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
- Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard
- Official Website for the Royal Commission into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard
- CBC.ca Indepth: Timeline of David Milgaard story
- CBC Digital Archives: The Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard
- Supreme Court of Canada opinion Reference re Milgaard (Can.),  1 S.C.R. 866
- Milgaard at the Internet Movie Database
- The David Milgaard Story at the Internet Movie Database
- "Crime Stories" Elusive Rapist at the Internet Movie Database