Arrest and trial
In January 1969, Milgaard, and his friends, Ron Wilson and Nichole John, took a trip across Canadian roads which included some drugs. Ron Wilson later testified against Milgaard, claiming that Milgaard 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 $2,000 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 that he had seen Milgaard return the night of Miller's murder in blood-stained clothing.
Both Ron and Nichole were also called to testify against him. They had told police that they had been with Milgaard the entire day and that they believed him to be innocent, but they changed their stories for the court. Ron later recanted his testimony claiming that he had been told he was personally 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.
Review and release
Milgaard appealed his conviction several times, but was blocked both by bureaucracy and by a justice system unreceptive to those who were not willing to admit their guilt. His formal application was completed in 1988, but was not considered until 1991 after Liberal MP, Lloyd Axworthy addressed the Parliament: "...I wish to speak of a travesty of justice. I speak of the plight of David Milgaard who has spent the last twenty-one 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 an entire chapter to Milgaard. In this she claims that one of the main reasons for the delay in acting on the request to reopen his case was due to the fact that Milgaard's lawyers continually added new documentation to the file, which slowed the process in regard to when she could begin the review proceedings.
Supreme Court of Canada reference and subsequent events
The federal government submitted a reference question to the Supreme Court of Canada, which recommended that Milgaard's conviction be set aside. Kim Campbell, then the federal Minister of Justice, ordered, pursuant to section 690 of the Criminal Code, that a new trial be held on the murder charge against Milgaard. However, the Government of Saskatchewan announced that it would not hold a new trial, 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 with Milgaard -- for 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 Ms. Miller. On May 17, 1999, the Saskatchewan government announced that a settlement had been reached with Milgaard, and that he would be paid compensation of C$10 million.
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 it includes 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 already existed, Milgaard might have been released from jail years before he actually was.
Linda Fisher, ex-wife of Gail's murderer Larry Fisher, visited the Saskatoon police department in 1980. Linda told the police that she believed Larry had likely killed Gail. The Saskatoon Police Department did not follow up on Linda's statement. The inquiry report released by Justice 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 Fisher: The Real Killer
Larry Fisher lived in the neighbourhood where Gail Miller was raped and murdered, but at the time he was not seriously considered as a suspect.
Fisher was arrested, July 25, 1997 in Calgary. He was convicted November 22, 1999, and sentenced to life in prison on January 4, 2000. Due to applicable laws at the time of the crime, however, he will be eligible to apply for parole in 10 years, rather than the current 25, after the sentence. Prior to this conviction, Fisher had served 23 years for numerous rapes in the cities of Winnipeg (Manitoba), Saskatoon and North Battleford (Saskatchewan).
The Milgaard case in popular culture
To date, the David 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 popular 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.