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Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard

page six

Police fed murder details to Milgaard friend
Travelling companion tells inquiry he just agreed with officer's statements

Two teenagers who gave police the same false story in 1969 about David Milgaard killing Gail Miller didn't come up with the details themselves, the inquiry into Milgaard's wrongful conviction heard Thursday.

Ron WilsonOne of them, Ron Wilson, now 53, told the inquiry that in May 1969, he simply agreed to statements that were put to him by Saskatoon police detective Eddy Karst, who made notes about the answers. Wilson then read the document and signed it.

Wilson said he didn't implicate Milgaard in the murder until he had been in Saskatoon police custody for two days, during which he was shown the scene of the crime, questioned repeatedly and shown the victim's bloody dress by Calgary police officer Art Roberts, who administered a polygraph test on him.

Wilson said he had been a heavy user of drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, mescaline and amphetamines, for more than a year at the time. He just wanted to get out of police custody so he could get high on drugs, he said.

The polygraph interrogation on May 23, 1969, consisted of two sessions that each lasted about two hours, he said. Wilson said that during those sessions he realized he could end the questioning by changing his answers and incriminating Milgaard.

Wilson said he understood he was implicating his friend in a murder he didn't commit.

"It got to the point where I didn't care. I'd gone a couple of days without any drugs and it was starting to hurt," he testified Thursday.

No record exists of the polygraph test. Roberts is now dead. The inquiry has heard excerpts of his testimony at Milgaard's 1992 Supreme Court hearing, where Roberts said he didn't know what became of his notes from the Wilson interviews or the polygraph chart.

Roberts and a Saskatoon officer also showed Wilson six paring knives and asked Wilson if he had seen any of them in Milgaard's possession. He indicated one with a maroon handle the police kept going back to, he said. The inquiry has heard that the murder weapon was a maroon-handled paring knife.

Wilson and Nichol John, a teenage friend of Wilson's and Milgaard's, were placed together for about an hour that day, Wilson said. During that time, he suggested to her that they both give police "what they wanted" to "sink" Milgaard.

Wilson said he didn't know and didn't care what John was telling police or if her story would contradict the lies he was telling.

Wilson signed a statement saying he was separated from Milgaard for 15 minutes around the time of the murder. The statement included many new details which were not in his previous statement that did not incriminate Milgaard.

The next day, on May 24, John signed an 11-page statement that also included the same new details, which also had not been in her original statement.

That day, as well, another page of details that matched those in John's new statement was added to Wilson's statement of May 23. Both teens were driven home to Regina on May 24.

On Aug. 15, 1969, Wilson was convicted of two unrelated offences, conspiracy to commit fraud and possession of LSD. He was serving a sentence for that at Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., when Milgaard's preliminary hearing began Aug. 18. Karst was sent to Alberta to escort Wilson to the preliminary hearing. Wilson was escorted back, after he testified, by Charles Short of the Saskatoon police.

Months later, when Wilson was in Saskatoon waiting for his turn to testify at Milgaard's 1970 trial, Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell came to Wilson's hotel room to make sure of the length of time Wilson said he and Milgaard were separated the morning of the murder, Wilson said.

Wilson did not meet with Milgaard's defence lawyer, Calvin Tallis, or anyone from the Milgaard family before the trial, he said

Milgaard was convicted and spent 23 years in prison before he was released in 1992 after Wilson recanted and the Supreme Court of Canada reviewed the case. DNA was used in 1997 to prove Milgaard's innocence and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher of the crime in 1999.

The inquiry is looking into the original death investigation, the prosecution of Milgaard and the actions taken by justice officials when new information about the case became available.

Wilson will return to the witness stand when the inquiry resumes on Monday.


Police forged Milgaard theory: lawyer

Gail Miller

Senior members of the Saskatoon police force formulated a theory about David Milgaard killing Gail Miller and then had investigators obtain statements to support the theory, Milgaard's lawyer told a wrongful conviction inquiry Tuesday.

Hersh Wolch based his comment on a police document that lays out information police had gathered about the Miller murder and their theory of events.

The theory included items that later showed up in statements signed by Nichol John and Ron Wilson, the two teenagers who travelled to Saskatoon with Milgaard the morning of the murder, Jan. 31, 1969.

However, the theory appeared to be based, in part, on a statement attributed to John that she had not yet made, Wolch showed the Milgaard inquiry.

The document says that John admitted seeing a woman who looked like a nurse near a funeral home, and that Milgaard asked her for directions.

The first time John said Milgaard asked a woman for directions was in a statement she signed May 24, 1969, after she and Wilson had been brought to Saskatoon from Regina, shown the place where Miller's body was found, kept in the police station for one and two nights respectively, interrogated by a polygraph expert and shown the victim's bloody uniform.

That statement has John claiming to see Milgaard stab Miller. John has never repeated or confirmed that allegation. Prior to that, throughout the first 11 weeks that she was questioned, John maintained Milgaard was not involved in Miller's death.

There was no date on the police document, but Wolch said it pre-dates John's May 24 statement because it ended with a suggestion that John, Wilson and another man be brought to Saskatoon where, with all present, "the true story can be obtained," even if hypnosis or a polygraph was necessary.

Wilson was brought to Saskatoon on May 21, 1969.

John also acknowledged she didn't know the building in question was a funeral home until police told her on May 22.

"The police had a complete theory . . . and eventually you and Ron Wilson gave them what they wanted," Wolch asked John. "It looks like it," John said.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the murder he didn't commit. He was released in 1992, after the case was reveiwed by the Supreme Court. DNA was used to prove his innocence in 1997 and was used to convict serial rapist, Larry Fisher, of the crime in 1999.

The inquiry is looking into the original death investigation, Milgaard's prosecution and the actions of justice officials in the years afterward.

John, who was on the witness stand for six days, has said she cannot remember most of the events from 1969 nor most of the important, related events since.

Wolch and James Lockyer, who represents Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, spent a day and a half leading John through evidence that shows police pressured John and Wilson into giving false statements against Milgaard.

John has shown little emotion during the long days on the stand, but her voice quavered as she agreed with Wolch that she was a 16-year-old without parental guidance or legal counsel, who was locked away in a jail setting until police obtained the statement that was "totally created." Wolch said the police theory document implicating Milgaard was prepared between May 7 and May 21, 1969, by senior members of the Saskatoon police.

Police who questioned John before the police theory was documented commented in their reports that John was convincing and seemed to be telling the truth but they appeared to have been over-ruled by superiors in the police department who did not believe her, Wolch said.

Meanwhile, Lockyer became involved in an exchange with commissioner Justice Edward MacCallum about MacCallum's position on Milgaard's innocence. Lockyer wanted assurance that MacCallum agrees Milgaard is factually innocent, while MacCallum refused to make a declaration and asked that he not be drawn into Lockyer's argument.

Commission counsel Doug Hodson re-read the commission's terms of reference, which says: "The commission shall perform its duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the criminal or civil responsibility of any person or organization, and without interfering in any ongoing criminal or civil proceeding."

John was excused from the stand Tuesday. Ron Wilson will take the stand today. Transcripts of the hearing and documents referred to are available on the commission's website at www.milgaardinquiry.ca.


Travelling companion lied to end 1969 interrogation
Truthful answers didn't satisfy operator of polygraph, inquiry told

Ron Wilson wanted to end an interrogation session when he lied in 1969 and implicated David Milgaard in Gail Miller's murder, Wilson told the Milgaard inquiry Wednesday.

Milgaard was wrongfully convicted and spent 23 years in prison before Wilson's recantation helped win his release in 1992. DNA was used to prove his innocence in 1997 and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher of the crime in 1999.

Wilson recanted in 1990 when he was interviewed by an investigator with an American organization called Centurion Ministries, which took up the case on behalf of Milgaard and his mother, Joyce Milgaard.

That admission helped Milgaard obtain a new hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada, which directed the justice minister to quash the conviction. The government of Saskatchewan decided not to order another trial.

On March 2, 1969, Wilson, then 17, gave police a truthful statement about a trip to Saskatoon he had made with Milgaard and Nichol John on Jan. 31, the day of the murder, he said Wednesday.

Eleven weeks later, on May 21, he gave police blood and saliva samples and agreed to go to Saskatoon from Regina for a polygraph test, which he was confident would show he was not lying, he said Wednesday.

Once in Saskatoon, police took Wilson to the alley where Miller's body was found, pointed out a landmark church and funeral home, and showed him that Miller's wallet was found near the house he and his friends had visited that morning.

Wilson was held in police cells overnight and taken back to the locations on May 22. He was allowed to spend that night at the Ritz Hotel.

On May 23, Wilson was taken to the Sheraton Cavalier, where a Calgary polygraph expert, Art Roberts, gave him the lie detector test and interviewed him for several hours.

Wilson testified Wednesday he had been using LSD in the days before the questioning and didn't feel well during the "long and arduous" questioning. He realized the officer was not satisfied with the truthful answers he gave in which he denied suspecting or knowing Milgaard was involved in the murder.

Roberts "kept coming back to the questions over and over," Wilson said.

"I thought I'd see what happens if I changed the answer. When I did, the question disappeared," he said. "I changed the answers to see what would happen, if the questions would quit."

Wilson's new answers indicated that Milgaard had referred to a woman on the street as a "stupid bitch" after they asked her for directions, that Milgaard had been separated from him and John for about 15 minutes around the time of the murder, that Milgaard had returned to the car panting, that John was afraid of Milgaard after that point, that Wilson had seen blood on Milgaard's clothing, that John had found a cosmetic case in the glove compartment and that Milgaard had thrown it out the window, that in Calgary Milgaard had confessed to stabbing a girl in Saskatoon and that Wilson had told John, who said she already knew.

Wilson and John were placed together during a break in the questioning that day, he said. During that meeting he suggested to John that he and she should give the police what they wanted and "sink him," Wilson said.

The next day John signed a statement saying she had seen Milgaard stab a woman. John has never repeated that statement. She said at Milgaard's trial, and ever since, that she can't remember what happened.

Wilson testified against Milgaard at his 1970 trial. He returns to the witness stand today.


'I knew I'd lied,' witness tells Milgaard inquiry

The youth whose lie helped convict David Milgaard of a murder he didn't commit "went home and got wired" after he learned of the guilty verdict, the Milgaard inquiry heard Monday.

"I knew I'd lied. I knew he hadn't (comitted murder)," Ron Wilson said.

Wilson said that while he was being interrogated by Art Roberts, a polygraph expert from Calgary, he came to believe that Milgaard had killed 20-year-old nursing assistant Gail Miller on Jan. 31, 1969, when Milgaard, Wilson and Nichol John were travelling through Saskatoon.

"To me it was kind of true at the time," he said.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison before he was released in 1992 after his case was reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada. DNA was used to prove his innocence in 1997 and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher in 1999.

The commission of inquiry is looking into the original investigation, the wrongful conviction and actions taken by justice officials when new information came out afterwards.

After the May 23, 1969, interrogation, Wilson changed his earlier, non-incriminating statement and gave one that implicated Milgaard in the murder. John, who was also interrogated for three days, also changed her earlier statement and signed one that contained most of the same new details as Wilson's, as well as a claim of having seen Milgaard stab a woman.

In the eight months from the interrogation until Milgaard's January 1970 trial, Wilson said he continued to think Milgaard had committed the murder.

By the time Milgaard's trial ended, however, Wilson said he knew he had lied.

"I really started thinking about it and I knew I'd lied. I knew he was innocent and there was nothing I could do about it. I just filed it and went home."

Wilson also said Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell met with him before the trial and questioned him about the length of time he had been separated from Milgaard that morning. It gave Wilson the impression Caldwell wanted him to increase the length of time he had been gone, he said Monday.

"To me it sounded like he wanted it extended, so I extended it (during testimony)," he said

"They wanted an extended time period, they got it," he said, explaining that by "they" he meant Caldwell.

Wilson said he thought John's statement of having actually witnessed the murder would have been more harmful to Milgaard than his account of being separated from Milgaard long enough for him to have committed the act.

It was years before he learned that John had "clammed up" at the trial, where she said she couldn't remember seeing the stabbing.

Wilson applied for the $2,000 reward the Saskatoon police had offered when they were seeking leads in the Miller investigation. He said the prospect of a reward did not influence his testimony against Milgaard.

The police never offered Wilson any kind of deal to testify against Milgaard, Wilson said.

"That never happened," he said.

Wilson said he didn't think about his role in Milgaard's conviction very much during the 1970s, when he used drugs heavily, including heroin.

It began to bother him again after he talked to Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, in 1981.

Even then, however, he didn't admit the truth to her. Wilson was afraid of David Milgaard in 1981.

"He had to be a little ticked. Because he knew I'd lied.

"I wanted to tell the truth to somebody, but I thought, 'Who's going to believe me?' It would pop up in my mind. Sometimes I'd cry about it," Wilson said.


Wilson haunted by lies for decades

The Milgaard inquiry ended 90 minutes earlier than usual Tuesday after Ron Wilson, the man who recanted lies that helped wrongfully convict David Milgaard, complained of dizziness while on the stand.

An ambulance was called to the Radisson Hotel, where the commission of inquiry is sitting this week, but left without a patient after about 15 minutes.

It was Wilson's fourth day of testimony answering questions from commission counsel Doug Hodson. Eleven parties with standing have the right to cross-examine Wilson after Hodson is done.

Wilson, 53, said earlier Tuesday he was haunted by the knowledge his lies helped send Milgaard to prison.

"I felt I was screwed. I wasn't treated right (by the police officers) and that's how everything went wrong," Wilson said, adding he still feels he was a victim along with Milgaard.

Wilson was 17 in 1969 when he, Milgaard and Nichol John travelled through Saskatoon on the morning nursing assistant Gail Miller was raped and stabbed to death. He told police that he saw blood on Milgaard's clothing and that Milgaard later confessed to him. Milgaard was convicted on Jan. 31, 1970, one year to the day after the murder.

Milgaard was released in 1992, after the case was reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada. DNA was used to exonerate him in 1997 and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher of the crime in 1999. The inquiry is looking into the original investigation, the wrongful conviction and actions taken by justice officials after new information came out.

In 1990, Wilson recanted in an interview with Paul Henderson, an investigator working on Milgaard's behalf.

He had been intimidated and manipulated by the police into lying against Milgaard, he said.

When asked what, exactly, police had done to cause him to fabricate a statement, Wilson said Saskatoon police officers Eddie Karst and Charles Short used the power of suggestion when they dragged him to the scene where Miller's body was found and showed him where evidence was located in the area.

At the time, Wilson was regularly using drugs, such as LSD, speed, marijuana and later, heroin. He was coming down from LSD on the days he was held and questioned in Saskatoon, he said.

Wilson said he was also manipulated into lying by Calgary polygraph expert Art Roberts, who, Wilson said, interrogated him for about six hours over two sessions on May 23, 1969. Wilson said Roberts asked him the same questions so many times that he stopped telling the truth and gave Roberts the answers he wanted.

"My mind was exhausted. I was mentally scrambled. . . . I remember it was like brainwashing," he said in the June 4, 1990, recanting statement.

Wilson wanted to end the questioning so he could go home and get stoned, he said.

Wilson said police officers didn't make him lie at court, but by that time he had come to believe the lies he was telling. He was mentally unstable because of all the drugs he was using, he said Tuesday.

He said he realized soon after that he had been manipulated. He wanted to tell somebody but didn't until 20 years later. During the 1970s he used drugs heavily and put the matter out of his mind, he said.

He was reminded of his guilty secret in 1981, when Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, contacted him with questions about his experience with the police who investigated Miller's murder.

Wilson didn't admit the truth to Joyce Milgaard then. At the time, he was in the midst of a years-long effort to get off drugs.

He said he wanted to tell someone but didn't know what to do until Henderson approached him in July 1990.

Henderson gave him transcripts of his testimony at Milgaard's trial and the two statements he had given police, the first was the truth and the second the lies.

"I read them to myself and I couldn't believe how damning it was," Wilson said.

He gave Henderson a statement recanting and then contacted Milgaard, apologizing to him on the phone, he said.

If Wilson is well enough to continue today, the inquiry will continue as scheduled through Thursday and then take a break until April 4. If Wilson can't take the stand today, he will be asked to return April 4.


Witness blamed polygraph expert for damning statements

Three years after he recanted his damning statements against David Milgaard, Ron Wilson continued to think of two Saskatoon police detectives as "good guys."

Wilson blamed Calgary city police officer and polygraph expert Art Roberts for intimidating and manipulating him into giving false statements that helped convict his friend of murder, according to remarks he made during a 1993 telephone call with RCMP, who were looking into the possibility of police wrongdoing in the investigation of Gail Miller's death.

"Roberts suggested to me a lot of what I said," Wilson said in the taped interview.

The commission of inquiry into Milgaard's wrongful conviction listened to a tape recording of the interview Wednesday in Wilson's absence.

Wilson, 53, experienced dizziness while on the stand Tuesday afternoon, his fourth day of answering questions. He will continue testifying when the inquiry resumes on April 4, following a previously scheduled break in the hearings.

The inquiry is looking into the murder investigation which led to Milgaard's wrongful conviction and the actions taken by justice officials when new information came out in the years afterward.

Milgaard was a 16-year-old hippy travelling through Saskatoon the morning of Jan. 31, 1969, when Miller was raped and murdered. Three of Milgaard's friends who originally declared neither he nor they had anything to do with the murder implicated Milgaard after police questioning.

He was convicted and spent 23 years in prison before being released in 1992, after his case was reviewed by the Supreme Court.

DNA evidence was used to prove his innocence in 1997 and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher in 1999.

Wilson was one of Milgaard's travelling companions the day of the murder. He testified for the prosecution at Milgaard's 1970 trial but recanted in 1990. He said at the time police had intimidated and manipulated him into agreeing with statements that implicated Milgaard.

Wilson testified to that effect at Milgaard's Supreme Court hearing.

During the 1993 RCMP interview, Wilson tried to answer questions but many of his answers contradicted answers he had given in previous interviews before and since he recanted.

Wilson remained constant, however, in his negative assessment of Roberts, the polygraph expert. He compared Roberts with the two Saskatoon officers, Eddy Karst and Charles Short.

"If Karst and Short were on a hill top, Roberts was in the sewer," Wilson told the RCMP.

When asked if he harboured any ill will toward Karst and Short, Wilson replied that, "They were pressured into doing a job and they did it."

Wilson also blamed the officer who first questioned Albert Cadrain. Cadrain was the first person to implicate Milgaard, telling Saskatoon police he had seen blood on Milgaard's clothing.

The Crown prosecutor in the case should share some of the blame because he knew other rapes that had occurred in the neighbourhood had not been fully investigated, Wilson said in the 1993 interview.

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