David Milgaard (born July 7, 1952) is a Canadian who was wrongfully convicted for the 1969 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. As of 2015, he lives in Alberta and is employed as a community support worker. Milgaard is also a public speaker who advocates for the wrongfully convicted and for all prisoner rights.
Arrest and trial
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 visiting their friend Albert Cadrain, whose family was renting out a basement apartment to Larry Fisher. David's friends Ron and Nichol were coerced into giving false confessions. Cadrain, also gave a false confession. Police arrested Milgaard in British Columbia and sent him back to Saskatoon, 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 after police threatened them with prosecution for the crime if they didn't cooperate. With John and Wilson's testimony, 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. Milgaard later wrote of the hardships he faced in prison, where he was raped and later attempted suicide. He described the difficulty of having his case reviewed in his foreword to Gary Botting's book Wrongful Conviction in Canadian Law (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2010).
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".
The federal government submitted a reference question to the Supreme Court of Canada, which recommended Milgaard's conviction be set aside. Justice Minister Kim Campbell 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 – effectively exonerating Milgaard of the crime. The Saskatchewan government then apologized for the wrongful conviction.
On May 17, 1999, the governments of Canada and Saskatchewan announced that a settlement had been reached with Milgaard, and that he would be paid $10 million CAD compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages and legal fees.
Life after Release
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".
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. 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. 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.
Larry Earl Fisher (August 21, 1949 – June 10, 2015) was a Canadian who was convicted in 1999 of the murder he committed 30 years earlier. Fisher was arrested on July 25, 1997, in Calgary and convicted of Miller's murder on November 22, 1999. Fisher, who had previously served a total of 23 years for numerous rapes committed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, was handed a life sentence. The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan unanimously denied the appeal of his conviction in September 2003.
Fisher was eligible for parole on multiple occasions, but opted not to have his case heard by the National Parole Board. He died on June 10, 2015, at the Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
- When Justice Fails: The David Milgaard Story by Carl Karp and Cecil Rosner. Published by McClelland & Stewart Inc.
- REAL JUSTICE: Sentenced To Life At Seventeen - The Story of David Milgaard by Cynthia J. Faryon. Published by James Lorimer & Co. Ltd.
- A Mother's Story: The Fight To Free My Son David by Joyce Milgaard with Peter Edwards. Published by DoubleDay Canada Ltd.
In popular culture
- 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.
- Canadian artist David Collier described the Milgaard case in comics form in his 2000 book Surviving Saskatoon.
- In 2020, Milgaard started posting videos on his YouTube channel: Project Milgaard.
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. The archival reference number is R12997. It covers the period 1976 – 2004 and includes 30 centimeters of textual records, 1 banner, and 99 cassette tapes totaling 103 hours of audio.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 17, 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Green, Kevin (January 30, 2020). "'Will you stop typing?': Five decades after being wrongly convicted, Milgaard reflects on the idea of Canadian justice". CTV News. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
- Bergman, Brian. “Milgaard’s Victory.” Maclean’s 112, no. 22 (May 31, 1999): 28.
- "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
- Bergman, Brian. 1999. “Milgaard’s Victory.” Maclean’s 112 (22): 28.
- "Milgaard will get $10 million compensation". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
- "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.
- "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
- CBC News (February 20, 2004). "Alberta judge to head up Milgaard inquiry". CBC.ca. Retrieved September 18, 2007.
- "Police missed opportunity to reopen case". The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. September 27, 2008. Archived from the original on March 15, 2014.
- CBC News (September 26, 2008). "Joyce Milgaard 'delighted' by report recommendations". CBC.ca. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- CBC News Indepth: David Milgaard story with Larry Fisher notes
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 13, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Parole board says rapist, murderer Larry Fisher has passed on June parole hearing". Winnipeg Free Press. February 26, 2009.
- "Larry Fisher, Killer Behind David Milgaard's Wrongful Conviction, Dies in Prison". The Canadian Press. CBC News. June 11, 2015.
- "CBC Digital Archives – Migaard gets $10 million compensation package". Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- "Joyce Milgaard fond description at Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved June 18, 2020.
- Report of the Commission of Inquiry 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
- The David Milgaard Story at IMDb