…The whole judicial system is at issue -- it's worth more than one person
--Serge Kujawa, Crown Prosecutor in the David Milgaard case
SASKATOON (CP) - Thirty-six years after the brutal sex slaying of a young Saskatoon nursing assistant Gail Miller, a judicial inquiry will try to find out why an innocent teenager ended up spending 23 years in jail for the crime.
Justice Edward MacCallum announced Thursday that his inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard will begin on Jan. 17 at the Delta Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon.
The long-awaited inquiry had to be delayed until Larry Fisher, the man later convicted as the true culprit, had exhausted all his appeals. That happened in August, when the Supreme Court refused to hear his case.
Milgaard was a 16-year-old passing through Saskatoon when Gail Miller, 20, was killed. Her bloody and partially clad body was found in an alley on Jan. 31, 1969. Her throat had been slashed, she had been stabbed 27 times and she had been raped.
Milgaard spent his entire young adulthood behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence in 1997 - the same evidence that convicted Fisher in 1999.
Semen stains were left on Miller's dress and underwear and blood consistent with Fisher's DNA was also found on Miller's glove.
The inquiry into Milgaard's wrongful conviction is expected to last three months and cost $2 million.
Ten parties have standing at the inquiry, including Fisher, Milgaard and Joyce Milgaard, who fought tirelessly for her son's exoneration.
The Saskatchewan government has already awarded Milgaard $10 million for his wrongful conviction - the biggest criminal compensation package in Canadian history.
In Brief: The way has been cleared for Saskatchewan's long-awaited public inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard.
David Milgaard may finally get some answers this fall as to why he was wrongly convicted 34 years ago.
The way has been cleared for a long-awaited public inquiry into Milgaard's wrongful conviction in 1970 for the murder of Gail Miller. The last obstacle was removed Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it will not hear an appeal by Larry Fisher of his conviction in Miller's death.
Two years ago, after rejecting for years the idea of holding an inquiry into Milgaard's conviction, the government of Saskatchewan finally agreed to hold an inquiry, but only after Fisher had exhausted all of his appeals.
This spring it named Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Edward P. McCallum to head the inquiry. The inquiry has a budget of $2 million but no time limit has been set and McCallum will be free to hear as many witnesses as he wishes. Because the inquiry has many of the same powers as other judicial proceedings, witnesses can be compelled to testify. The inquiry cannot assign criminal or civil wrongdoing to individuals, but it is free to outline misconduct if that is its finding.
Commission counsel Doug Hodgson said a decision on dates will be made in the next few weeks, but it will not be before November.
Milgaard's mother Joyce, says Milgaard likely won't attend the hearings. "The government's taken enough time out of his life. He doesn't need any more time taken out."
That sounds bitter, but frankly we can't blame Joyce Milgaard. For 23 years she led the fight to free her son and saw her efforts blocked by stonewalling officials who obdurately ignored the gathering mass of evidence that the conviction was suspect. Indeed, the family was forced to pay for the DNA analysis that finally exonerated Milgaard.
Joyce Milgaard has been one of the driving forces behind the inquiry. She says although she is disappointed the inquiry cannot ascribe blame, it's important that the truth come out.
That may be asking too much. After 35 years, memories will have become clouded. But we agree with her sentiment. An old law aphorism says "justice delayed is justice denied." David Milgaard has been denied justice for too long.
An Alberta judge has been named to head the $2-million inquiry into the wrongful murder conviction of former Saskatoon resident David Milgaard.
Milgaard's mother, Joyce, said she was "very happy it's coming closer" to the start of the inquiry she's been demanding for years.
Milgaard spent 23 years in prison after his 1970 conviction for the murder of Saskatoon nursing assistant Gail Miller. He was freed after the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial and the case was stayed.
DNA evidence cleared Milgaard several years later, and the conviction of Larry Fisher for the Miller murder followed in 1999. Milgaard received $10 million and an apology from the provincial government for his wrongful conviction.
The Saskatchewan government announced last fall it would hold an inquiry after Fisher's appeals ran out.
The budget for the inquiry will be $2 million, but Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Edward P. McCallum will be free to hear as many witnesses as he thinks necessary.
There will be no time limit on the inquiry, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell told reporters in Saskatoon Friday morning.
Witnesses can be forced to testify, as the inquiry has many of the same powers as other court proceedings.
"We are committed to finding answers," Quennell said.
Ed Karst, a retired Saskatoon police officer involved in the Milgaard investigation, said in an interview that he has a clear conscience, and will wait to see more details of the inquiry before commenting on any specifics.
"Everything was above board, so I'm not concerned at all," Karst said.
"(But) knowing now what I didn't know then, I suppose things could have been done a little different. There's always afterthought, but I didn't know that at the time."
The commission will not assign criminal or civil responsibility, although McCallum is theoretically free to recommend that another investigation take place, commission counsel Doug Hodson said.
According to the terms of reference, the commission can look into all aspects of the Miller murder investigation and the criminal proceedings that led to Milgaard's conviction.
It will also try to determine whether the case should have been reopened at various points when new information came to light over the years.
The hearings will likely be held in Saskatoon. A final report will be delivered to the justice minister, and then released to the public.
Both Quennell and Hodson said piecing together information from a 35-year-old case could prove difficult.
"We may face some challenges with recollections," said Hodson, who attended the news conference with Quennell at the Saskatoon cabinet office.
Hodson said the inquiry may have to rely heavily on documentation. Some potential witnesses may have died or forgotten details of the case.
Over the next few weeks, the commission will finalize its procedures and infrastructure, Hodson said.
He hopes to begin hearings by April to determine which parties will have standing at the inquiry. The inquiry website should be up and running within a week.
Joyce Milgaard said she'll be "eternally grateful" to the Miller family for urging officials to re-examine the case. She said her heart goes out to them, as the inquiry will bring back many unpleasant memories.
She's looking forward to testifying.
"I think it's important that the truth comes out," she said in a telephone interview from her busy Petersfield, Man. home, where she spent Friday fielding calls and giving television interviews in her living room.
Joyce Milgaard said she hopes to discover what role justice officials played in the case. She said she's disappointed the inquiry cannot assign liability or blame.
Even though it was many years ago, those who may have done wrong should be punished, she said.
David Milgaard was not available for comment, as he is paragliding in Romania, she said. He then travels to Morocco and Finland before coming back to Canada.
David Asper, who served as Milgaard's co-counsel, has also been calling for the inquiry since Milgaard was freed from prison in 1992.
"I wish the inquiry well. On the other hand, it's 12 years since David got out of prison," said Asper, now executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications Corp.
Asper hopes the inquiry answers three main questions: why did they arrest Milgaard for the murder when most signs pointed to an unknown perpetrator, later found to be Fisher; why did some witnesses change their stories at various points of the proceedings; and, what did prosecutors and police do when evidence began to surface questioning Milgaard's guilt?
"The disclosure of the bad guys in public may be a deterrent to others who might consider doing the same kind of things," Asper said from his Winnipeg office Friday afternoon.
REGINA (CP) - More than 30 years after David Milgaard was sent to prison for a horrific murder he did not commit, a public inquiry was formally launched Friday to look at how the justice system failed him.
Alberta Justice Edward P. MacCallum has been appointed to oversee the probe, said Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell. "We are committed to finding answers to the many unanswered questions that surround this case," Quennell said from Saskatoon, where the case is centred.
"There are all kinds of concerns about how the case was handled originally at trial and subsequently, years later, when other information was provided, perhaps, to police and the prosecutions branch of the Department of Justice."
Milgaard spent 23 years in jail for the 1969 murder of Gail Miller, a 20-year-old nursing aide from Saskatoon.
In 1992, the Supreme Court quashed Milgaard's conviction and in 1997 DNA evidence cleared him of the crime.
That same evidence convicted another man, Larry Fisher in 1999. He is currently serving a life sentence.
The province held off on an inquiry while Fisher's appeal was still before the courts. When the appeal was lost last September, the province promised the hearing.
Quennell admitted that the inquiry may have some trouble getting to the truth because of the number of years that have passed since Milgaard was convicted.
"There will be witnesses that are no longer available," Quennell said. "I don't know what the commission will be able to determine, I don't know what it's findings will be, but we will have to wait and see."
He also admitted that many of the findings may not be of any use to police or to the Justice Department because policies have changed since then.
Even so, Quennell said, the inquiry must go ahead to give closure to both the Milgaard and Miller families.
Joyce Milgaard, David's mother who worked tirelessly to free her son, was elated with the news.
"It's been over 30 years," Milgaard said in a telephone interview from Manitoba.
"I know it will be difficult, but I have done difficult things before and I'll do this too."
David Milgaard was in Europe and could not be reached for comment. Joyce Milgaard said she was not sure he was aware the inquiry had been launched.
Saskatoon police Insp. Lorne Constantinoff said the force supports the inquiry, though he doesn't believe that any of the investigators who worked on Milgaard's case are still affiliated with the department.
"We have nothing to hide," Constantinoff said. "We will certainly stand up and be reckoned and allow our books to be as wide open as we possibly can."
Miller's murder stunned the city of Saskatoon when it happened in 1969.
Her bloody and partially clad body was found in a snowy alley on Jan. 31. Her throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed 27 times.
Milgaard, then 16, had been passing through Saskatoon at the time with three friends.
Some of the most damning evidence at his trial came from Nichol John, one of the friends who was with Milgaard on the night of the killing.
She told police she had witnessed Milgaard stab Miller, but at trial, John testified that she could not remember the incident. Still, her statement to police was used to help convict Milgaard.
Court also heard testimony from acquaintances who said Milgaard talked about killing Miller when he saw a story about her murder on TV.
But when the DNA evidence from semen found on Miller's clothing and blood found on her glove was analysed years later it pointed to Fisher, not Milgaard.
The Saskatchewan government eventually awarded Milgaard $10 million - the largest criminal compensation package in Canadian history.
Milgaard is one in a long list of Canadians to be wrongfully convicted in high-profile cases.
Last year, the Newfoundland and Labrador government launched a sweeping inquiry into its justice system after three wrongful convictions surfaced.
The public inquiry into David Milgaard's wrongful conviction will be open-ended and will be able to question whomever it wants, the Saskatchewan government said Friday.
Saskatchewan announced late last year that there would be an inquiry into the treatment of Mr. Milgaard, who was convicted of murder and spent decades in prison protesting his innocence. He was eventually freed and another man jailed for the crime.
On Friday, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell announced that Alberta judge Edward P. MacCallum, appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench in 1983, will head up the inquiry. He will be assisted by commission counsel Douglas Hodson of Saskatoon.
"Under the terms of reference, the commission of inquiry will have the responsibility to inquire into and report on any and all aspects of the conduct of the investigation into the death of Gail Miller and the subsequent criminal proceedings resulting in the wrongful conviction of Mr. Milgaard, on the charge that he murdered Miss Miller," he told reporters in Saskatoon.
"The commission of inquiry will also have the responsibility to seek to determine whether the investigation should have been reopened based on information subsequently received by the police and the Department of Justice."
He said that the purpose of the inquiry was not "to determine civil or criminal liability" but rather to reveal facts that may not have been uncovered in previous trials "because they weren't directly relevant."
Mr. Quennell said that the inquiry has no timeline and will get enough funding to be thorough, although he conceded that it may be difficult to unravel events a generation after the fact.
"I expect there'll be some difficulties, there'll be witnesses who are no longer available," he said. "[But] there is an extensive court record and police record ... there's considerable amount of documentation."
Mr. Milgaard was convicted in 1970 in the stabbing or nursing aide Gail Miller. Only after 23 years behind bars was he exonerated by DNA evidence. The Saskatchewan government awarded him $10-million and promised to hold a public inquiry once the man convicted in his place, Larry Fisher, had exhausted his avenues of appeal.
The DNA evidence that cleared Mr. Milgaard was enough to damn Mr. Fisher. An RCMP forensic analyst said the odds were 950 trillion to one that semen stains on the victim's clothing had not come from Mr. Fisher.
The long-awaited inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard left his mother Joyce underwhelmed.
"There's lots missing," Joyce Milgaard said by telephone yesterday after the Saskatchewan government announced it will hold an open-ended investigation into why David Milgaard spent almost 23 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. "The biggest thing is there's no accountability," she said from her home in Manitoba.
David was 17 when he was convicted for the 1969 rape and murder of Gail Miller, a 20-year-old from Saskatoon. He was freed in 1993 and exonerated in 1997 as a result of DNA testing.
In 1999, the Saskatchewan government awarded Milgaard $10 million for his wrongful conviction.
Larry Fisher was convicted of the murder in 1999.
No time frame was announced for the inquiry, but Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell said he hopes it will begin this year.
Quennell told reporters in Saskatoon yesterday that the purpose of the inquiry was not "to determine civil or criminal liability."