David Milgaard

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

David Milgaard (born July 7, 1952) 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. He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba.[1] As of 2015, he lives in Calgary, Alberta and is employed as a community support worker.[2]

Arrest and trial[edit]

In January 1969, 16-year-old Milgaard and his friends Ron Wilson and Nichol John took a trip across Canada. 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 apartment 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 Langenburg, 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 prison, 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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[3]

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 – for all intents and purposes clearing Milgaard of the crime. The Saskatchewan government then apologized for the wrongful conviction. On July 25, Larry Fisher was arrested for the murder and rape of Miller.[4]

On May 17, 1999, the Saskatchewan government announced that a settlement had been reached with Milgaard, and that he would be paid $10 million CAD compensation.[5]

As of January 2020, Milgaard was living in Cochrane, Alberta. He had recently been appointed to the Independent Review Board Working Group, an entity whose creation was ordered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December 2019. A news item stated that "he has helped in the fight for the creation of a review board for cases of wrongful conviction".[6][7]


On September 30, 2003, the Saskatchewan government announced a royal commission would investigate Milgaard's wrongful conviction, and on February 20, 2004, Justice Edward P. MacCallum was announced as the commissioner.[8] Douglas Hodson was later appointed as commission counsel.

On September 26, 2008, the Saskatchewan Minister of Justice, 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.[9] 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."[10] This is seen by some as an excuse for the failure of the Saskatoon police to investigate Larry Fisher.

Real killer[edit]

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 finally 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). Fisher was never paroled, dying in prison in 2015.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Today, 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.
  • The song Wheat Kings by The Tragically Hip (from their 1992 album Fully Completely) contains references to the story.[12]
  • Canadian artist David Collier described the Milgaard case in comics form in his 2000 book Surviving Saskatoon.


There is a Joyce Milgaard fonds at Library and Archives Canada, which includes archival material relating to her fight to free David Milgaard, her son, from his wrongful imprisonment.[13] The archival reference number is R12997. It covers the date range between 1976 and 2004. It includes 30 centimeters of textual records; 1 banner; and 99 cassette tapes (103 h).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 17, 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "'I don't hold anything against Saskatoon,' David Milgaard says of wrongful conviction". CBC News. October 8, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  3. ^ "Oh Canada Profile: Sleeman Breweries". CBC News. April 16, 2017. Retrieved January 21, 2020. Milgaard was released from prison, after a court ruled he should have a new trial in the 1969 murder of Saskatoon nursing aide Gail Miller
  4. ^ "Oh Canada Profile: Sleeman Breweries". CBC News. April 16, 2017. Retrieved January 21, 2020. Serial rapist Larry Fisher was later linked to Miller's murder through DNA evidence. Fisher was arrested in 1997, 28 years after the murder of Gail Miller, and convicted in 1999. He died behind bars at the age of 65 in 2015.
  5. ^ "Milgaard will get $10 million compensation". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  6. ^ "QUEST FOR JUSTICE: Milgaard continues to fight for those wrongly convicted". Winnipeg Sun. January 15, 2020. Retrieved January 21, 2020. Now he is helping others who are living his nightmare find their way to freedom.
  7. ^ "The Globe's top long reads of 2019". Winnipeg Sun. December 31, 2020. Retrieved January 21, 2020. David Milgaard who was wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller finds peace at home in Cochrane, Alberta
  8. ^ CBC News (February 20, 2004). "Alberta judge to head up Milgaard inquiry". CBC.ca. Retrieved September 18, 2007.
  9. ^ "Police missed opportunity to reopen case". The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. September 27, 2008. Archived from the original on March 15, 2014.
  10. ^ CBC News (September 26, 2008). "Joyce Milgaard 'delighted' by report recommendations". CBC.ca. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  11. ^ "Larry Fisher, killer behind David Milgaard's wrongful conviction, dies in prison". cbc.ca. June 11, 2015.
  12. ^ "CBC Digital Archives – Migaard gets $10 million compensation package". Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  13. ^ "Joyce Milgaard fond description at Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved June 18, 2020.

External links[edit]