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Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard

page seven

Joyce Milgaard

Paperless database for Milgaard inquiry massive undertaking

A stampede of documents that threatened to overrun the Milgaard inquiry was wrangled into a massive computer data system that corralled 300,000 pages into an orderly, paperless reference tool.

Commission counsel Doug Hodson and executive director Candace Congram saw that an electronic system was needed as soon as parties to the inquiry began submitting their documents, Congram said.

The first of 12 parties to deliver its documents sent 17 file boxes crammed with police reports, police statements, letters, memos, transcripts, newspaper clippings, maps and drawings. Another warned they would be sending 50 boxes.

The material was collected over 35 years, since the 1969 murder of Saskatoon nursing assistant Gail Miller and the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard. He spent 23 years in prison before being released in 1992. DNA evidence was used to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher of the crime in 1999.

The commission of inquiry is looking into the original murder investigation, the prosecution of Milgaard and the actions taken by justice officials as new information became available over the years. The commission was appointed in February 2004.

After all the documents were collected, the commission found it would need 500 binders to house one complete set.

Providing one set to each of the 12 parties with standing, plus one for commission counsel and one for the commissioner would have required 7,000 binders. A few acres of forest would have to be cut down and mushed into paper just to print the paper needed to fill them.

"When we realized how many documents we had . . . we knew we had to set up a database to handle it," Congram said.

Building the elaborate, multi-layer database began with scanning every scrap of paper. Because security was a priority, the commission refused to send the documents to a scanning service.

"We needed to find a way to do it in-house. We ended up bringing in a four-person scanning team who came in with scanners and set up and just ran. They scanned 18 hours a day."

Before that could happen, however, each sheet of paper needed an identification number that would form the basis of the coding system.

As the information managers envisioned sophisticated new ways to code the pages and enable many different ways of searching through them, they found there was no way to avoid the low-tech, manual job of using a rubber stamp and ink pad to number each of the 300,000 pages.

"It was a summer student, bless him. Without him we wouldn't have got through. The database would be nothing," Congram said.

Others working in the office sometimes spelled him off, hoping to reduce his risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, she said.

Scanning and coding lasted from May through October as lawyers for the parties waited for access.

"We had a day shift and a night shift and working through the weekend because it was a numbers game. You have so many documents and you can only push so many through per day on a scanner and you can only get so many through coding in a day," Congram said.

Each document had to be coded to enable searches. Because documents came in so many different formats, coders had to identify numerous features about each one so that specific searches would be sure to produce every document requested.

Commission staff who were accustomed to managing information for trials found they had to do some things differently because the database had to serve the needs of all the parties with standing, not just one defence or prosecutorial team.

While it was tempting to scan the duplicates provided by different parties just once, that shortcut was avoided because the commission had to be able to say who had what information and when they had it, Congram explained.

Now, a party can enter a search of a witness name and every document that even mentions that person can be called up.

The database was placed on a secured site on the Internet and parties were given passwords. It can be updated at any time and parties can be notified by a quick e-mail alert, making it much more efficient than paper or even a 10-CD ROM set, which would have required updates to be couriered to each party.

Lawyer Aaron Fox, who has represented parties at Milgaard and at the recent, paper-based Stonechild inquiry, said the electronic database is more cost-effective for the commission because it saves lawyers time. As well, the quicker access to information has freed him up to spend more time thinking about the real issues and, hopefully, results in better representation for the client.

A different, public website was also created for the commission, where documents are posted after they have been entered as evidence before the commissioner. Congram estimates creation of the database cost $450,000.

Other technology was needed to present the documents at the hearings. Inland Audio was contracted to provide flat screen monitors for each party with standing and special touch-screen monitors for the witness and the podium used by lawyers asking questions. There's also a large screen for other observers in the room.

The presentation system allows the examining lawyer to request a document, which then instantly appears on all of the monitors in the room. The lawyer and witness can touch their monitors to point out a paragraph that can then be enlarged and scrolled through. The touch screens can also be used to create lines or arrows on maps.

While lawyers at the Gomery inquiry in Montreal cart towers of binders to the hearing room each day and wait for witnesses to find documents, lawyers for parties at the Milgaard inquiry can glance at their monitors or, using the Internet access provided them, use their own laptop computers to do preparation work while the hearings are in process.

Congram expects the commission to pay about $50,000 for the presentation system over the 108 scheduled days of hearings.

Maintaining the database and the document presentation system takes another $150,000 out of the commission's $4.7 million budget. The technology bill will total about $650,000. The paper system would have cost about $450,000 before update additions.

The "great immeasurable," Congram said, is the time saving for lawyers, most of whom are billing $150 to $200 per hour.


Wilson recalls police interrogation

Ron Wilson

A man who admits he was "a mess" from drug use in 1969 and 1970, when he lied and implicated David Milgaard in a murder he didn't commit, tried on Monday to remember what he meant 15 years ago when he was being questioned about events 21 years before that.

Ron Wilson (right) tried, but sometimes failed, to follow confusing lines of logic in questions about what he knew of what other witnesses were saying about Milgaard during the 1969 investigation into the murder of Gail Miller and at Milgaard's 1970 trial for the crime.

Some of the questions were about what Wilson now thinks he knew in 1969, some were about what he thought in 1990 that he knew in 1969, some were about the differences in what he knew in 1969 and 1970, some were about what he thought about those differences in June 1990, when he recanted, and some were about what he was thinking a month later, in July 1990.

Wilson seldom said he couldn't remember what he knew or thought at different times in the distant past as commission counsel Doug Hodson referred to Wilson's various statements and sworn testimonies showing he sometimes gave contradictory answers.

Wilson, 53, was 17 when he, Milgaard and Nichol John came through Saskatoon on Jan. 31, 1969, to pick up Milgaard's friend, Albert Cadrain, on their way to Calgary. All four teens originally said there was nothing unusual about the morning but Milgaard's friends eventually all changed their stories. Cadrain said he saw blood on Milgaard's clothing, John said she saw the stabbing and Wilson said Milgaard confessed to him.

Milgaard was convicted in 1970 and sentenced to life in prison. In 1990, Wilson recanted and Milgaard was released two years later, after the case was reviewed by the Supreme Court. DNA evidence was used to clear Milgaard in 1997 and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher of the crime in 1999.

The commission of inquiry, which began in January, is looking into the original investigation, the prosecution of Milgaard and actions of justice officials in subsequent years as new information became known.

Wilson has said he was manipulated by police and the Crown prosecutor into giving evidence against Milgaard.

Wilson, who was using LSD, speed and cannabis almost every day, even while in jail, said he gave police the information they wanted so he could go home and get stoned.

He described a subtle process of intimidation and suggestion that he said led him to concoct a story that satisfied the police and took police focus off him as a suspect.

He doesn't remember being overtly bullied by the police, who he remembers as usually being friendly. Instead, the police gave him details about the murder that he wouldn't have known otherwise and suggested repeatedly that his copious drug use must have caused him to blank out memories about the day of the murder. The suggestions were presented as attempts to help him remember the truth, he said Monday.

Wilson said he eventually began to believe the police and adopted information they had given him.

While Wilson doesn't remember being forced to lie, he understood that police made it clear to him that as long as the crime was not attached to Milgaard, Wilson remained a suspect in the murder.

He recounted an odd incident, in which jail officials moved him from regular cells, where he was serving a sentence for conspiracy to traffic LSD, to the less desirable remand unit because they understood he was being held on suspicion of murder.

Wilson said he called Saskatoon police and they promised to clear up the mixup, but there was no change, and Wilson was housed in the less desirable section in the weeks preceding his testimony at Milgaard's preliminary hearing.

"It really shook me up," he said.

He said his drug use made him an unreliable witness and he was surprised that his testimony was considered credible enough to cause Milgaard to be committed to stand trial. He has said he thought John's testimony must have been more damning than his. He was surprised to learn later that John refused to repeat her claim of having seen Milgaard stab Miller.

Wilson said he thinks he would have broken down and admitted the lie at the trial if he had been questioned more vigorously by the defence.

Wilson returns to the stand today.


Inquiry revisits confusing testimony

The same confusion that has plagued Ron Wilson at the Milgaard inquiry got him into hot water when he was called to testify at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992.

Wilson was cited for contempt after he contradicted himself following a stern warning by then-Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, who said Wilson had been "lying through his teeth the whole time" while testifying in 1992.

Wilson answered questions about the Supreme Court testimony Tuesday at the Milgaard inquiry, where commission counsel Doug Hodson referred to transcripts from the hearing.

Wilson had been called to Ottawa to answer questions about his 1990 recantation of his damning 1970 testimony against David Milgaard, which had helped convict Milgaard of the 1969 rape and murder of 21-year-old Gail Miller. In 1997, DNA proved Milgaard's innocence.

During the 1992 Supreme Court review of Milgaard's conviction, Wilson contradicted himself on three important points.

Hersh Wolch

• He first said Milgaard had a bone-handle hunting knife before they arrived in Saskatoon the morning of Gail Miller's murder. Then, under questioning by Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch (right), Wilson said he didn't see a hunting knife.

• He first said his car got stuck at a T-intersection after Milgaard asked a woman for directions and that he and Milgaard left the car, walking in opposite directions, to seek help. Wilson said he walked several blocks and then came back, which took him away from the car for about 10 or 15 minutes. He had previously said he was gone from the car only two minutes.

Later, he agreed with Wolch that it didn't make sense for Milgaard to rob and stab a woman knowing that the car he would need to get away in was stuck and couldn't be moved without help. When Wolch pointed out that Milgaard said they never did get stuck near a T-intersection, Wilson agreed that was probably right.

• Wilson told the first lawyer who questioned him that Nichol John, the girl travelling with him and Milgaard, found a makeup compact in the glove compartment after the murder and that Milgaard took it from her and threw it out the window. Wilson later agreed with Wolch that there was no compact.

There were also numerous contradictions about whether he believed the lies he was telling at the time of the 1970 trial.

Wilson later explained to the high court that he had become confused during questioning. He didn't really agree with Wolch but he thought he and Wolch were on the same side and that Wolch would be kind to him. He said he agreed with questions that seemed to require agreement.

When Lamer asked Wilson: "You were following Wolch's lead everywhere he went?" Wilson agreed he had.

The contradictions were also a result of trying to read transcripts, listen to questions, analyze the differences he was being asked to compare and answer the question, all at the same time, he said at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court directed the minister of justice to quash the conviction and order a new trial. The province stayed the charge and said it would not order a new trial. Milgaard was released April 16, 1992, two days after the Supreme Court ruling.


Statements never challenged: Wilson
Says lie invented to please police

How could a car be stuck in the middle of a main thoroughfare intersection for 15 minutes on a weekday morning without anybody noticing it?

Ron Wilson told the Milgaard inquiry Wednesday that nobody ever challenged him on the implausible lie he invented to satisfy the police in 1969 when they were trying to build a case against David Milgaard for the murder of Gail Miller.

It was while the car was stuck there that Milgaard was supposed to have raped and murdered Miller.

Neither police, Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell nor Milgaard's defence lawyer, Calvin Tallis, used a map of the area to demonstrate that, if Wilson's description were true, his car would have been stuck in the middle of 20th Street at Avenue O or Avenue N at 6:45 a.m., Wilson acknowledged during cross-examination by Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch.

In 1969 the area was a bustling commercial and residential area. Twentieth Street was a main transit route with buses travelling through at 15-minute intervals.

Numerous witnesses had told police and Milgaard's trial that they were walking in the area, waiting for a bus, fixing a car and driving through the area.

None of those people said they saw Wilson's car stuck on ice and blocking traffic.

Police at the time advertised a request that anyone who had seen the car come forward. No one did.

The incongruity was never drawn to the attention of the jury at Milgaard's trial.

Wilson, who had maintained for two months that Milgaard was never separated from him long enough to commit a murder, eventually told police and the court that they got stuck on ice and that he and Milgaard were separated for 15 minutes after they left in opposite directions to seek help.

Wilson's false testimony included that new opportunity for Milgaard to commit murder, Milgaard being in possession of the murder weapon -- a maroon-handled paring knife -- and a motive for the killing, which was that Milgaard had planned to get money by purse-snatching.

The new elements of Wilson's damning statement were listed in a police document, shown at the inquiry, that was made before Wilson gave the statement.

The inquiry has heard that Nichol John claimed the car was stuck in the alley behind Westwood Funeral Home. She claimed to have been in the car watching as Milgaard grabbed Miller's purse and stabbed her.

That inconsistency also was ignored at the trial.

Twenty years after Milgaard was convicted of the murder, Wilson recanted, saying police manipulated him into lying through suggestions and implied threats that he might be blamed if Milgaard were not.

At the time, Wilson was a 17-year-old drug user and petty criminal who was already serving his second jail sentence.

Wilson agreed with Wolch that, while justice officials never challenged his implausible story, they challenged his recantation when Milgaard used it to try to have his case reopened in 1991.

Based on their advice, former federal justice minister, Kim Campbell, who later became prime minister, turned down Milgaard's request to have his case reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada. Campbell later changed her mind.

The Supreme Court heard the case in 1992 and quashed the conviction. Milgaard was released two days later, after 23 years in prison. DNA evidence proved his innocence in 1997 and was used to convict serial rapist, Larry Fisher in 1999.

The inquiry is looking into the 1969 investigation, Milgaard's prosecution and what actions justice officials took in the years that followed, as new information that could have helped free Milgaard came to light.

The inquiry also heard on Wednesday about a police report about six weeks after the murder, in which the writer describes the similarity in method between the Miller rape and two others which had occurred in the neighbourhood within recent months. The officer wrote that he had not overlooked the possibility the same person could have committed all of the crimes.

Fisher was eventually convicted of those sexual assaults.

Wolch and Joyce Milgaard's lawyer, Joanne McLean, said on numerous occasions police talked to Wilson when they could have suggested to him the details that he later included in his damning statement.

McLean continues cross examining Wilson today.


RCMP sought proof Wilson paid to recant

RCMP who were asked to investigate Joyce Milgaard's allegations of wrongdoing and a coverup by Saskatoon police and Saskatchewan Justice officials were more interested in finding out if Joyce had paid Ron Wilson to recant than in finding out if her allegations were true, her lawyer said Thursday.

The RCMP delved into 10 years of Wilson's personal banking history in 1993 to see if they could find a large cash deposit that might show he had taken money to recant evidence against David Milgaard, lawyer Joanne McLean showed while she cross-examined Wilson at the commission of inquiry into Milgaard's wrongful 1970 conviction.

RCMP obtained Wilson's and his wife's social insurance numbers, checked their banking activity, their credit card accounts, contacted a credit rating agency, looked into government records and even considered obtaining a search warrant to dig deeper into bank accounts, during the four-month search, documents showed.

injusticebusters.org editorial: They would really have liked this to be true. If even the slight nuance of a hint or suggestion were found, it would have been played up to the extreme. The fact none were brought forward proves there was never any payment made.

Wilson's recantation, before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992, had contributed to the quashing of Milgaard's conviction for murder and his release from prison after 23 years.

Wilson told the Supreme Court he was manipulated into implicating Milgaard in the murder when Wilson was a drug-using, 17-year-old petty criminal. They fed him information about the crime and made suggestions, which he adopted, he said.

He understood that police might try to blame him for the murder if they couldn't blame it on Milgaard, the inquiry has heard.

The 1993 RCMP investigators put a "sinister interpretation" on Joyce Milgaard's 1981 offer of a $10,000 reward to anyone who could help exonerate David, McLean said.

Joyce Milgaard's efforts to get her innocent son out of prison made her a target of accusations of wrongdoing herself, McLean said.

The 1993 RCMP investigators did not ask Wilson how inconsistencies between his and Nichol John's false statements came to be left out of trial testimony, McLean noted.

She also referred to notes by former Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell which show he planned to keep part of Wilson's statement out of Milgaard's 1970 trial. Wilson said he couldn't remember being told not to mention certain points from his damning statement.

McLean also presented a document which showed that four months after Milgaard was released, the RCMP were still working on a theory, referred to as the Milgaard, Wilson, John car theory.

That car theory suggested Milgaard committed the rape in the back seat of Wilson's car while Wilson and John were in the front seat going through her purse or perhaps were holding Miller while Milgaard raped her, McLean said, referring to the document.

The government of Saskatchewan still considered Milgaard and Wilson suspects in the murder as late as 1997, McLean showed, referring to a government document prepared just prior to the results of DNA testing. The document outlined the possible responses by the justice minister if the DNA showed Milgaard or Wilson had sexually assaulted Miller before murdering her on Jan. 31, 1969.

The DNA matched that of serial rapist Larry Fisher, who was convicted of the crime in 1999.

"You were cleared in 1997, just as David was," McLean said.

Wilson said he had no idea officials had considered him a suspect for so long.

Authorities were more inclined to accept Wilson's lies when he was a young criminal than to accept his truth when he was a responsible, law-abiding adult, he said.

"You got nothing but grief from authorities since you recanted," McLean said, to which Wilson agreed.

"You had a conscience and you exercised it. . . . Thank you for doing that," McLean said.

On Wednesday, David Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, called Wilson's recantation "courageous."

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