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Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard

page eight

Wilson believable at trial: lawyer

The man whose lies helped convict David Milgaard of murder told a subtle and believable story, the lawyer for Milgaard's former defence lawyer suggested Monday.

Peggy Morrow

PHOTO: Gord Waldner, The StarPhoenix Peggy Morrow, Gail Miller's sister, answers questions Wednesday

Ron Wilson was only 17 when he gave police a statement implicating Milgaard in the January 1969 murder of Gail Miller, but he already had two criminal convictions on his record and had served time in jail, making him more experienced than most people his age, suggested Alexander Pringle, the lawyer for Calvin Tallis.

Tallis, who represented Milgaard at his January 1970 trial, is now a judge of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. He has standing at the commission of inquiry into Milgaard's wrongful conviction.

Wilson has said that he might have told the truth at the trial if Tallis had cross-examined him more vigorously, had elicited information about his drug use and showed him to be an unreliable witness.

Pringle noted that Wilson minimized his drug use when questioned about it at the trial.

Pringle drew a picture of Wilson as a motorcycle gang member who was more likely to tell police to "stuff it" than to be afraid of them. Pringle suggested Wilson was sophisticated enough to know that if the police had evidence implicating him in the murder, they would have told him. Since they didn't tell him of any such evidence, Wilson would have had no reason to fear they would try to blame him for the murder, Pringle suggested.

Pringle noted that Wilson's statement subtly inserts circumstantial evidence, including allegations that he and Milgaard had discussed purse-snatching to get money for the trip, calling Miller a "stupid bitch" after asking her for directions on the street and then saying he didn't know if Miller had a purse.

As well, Wilson's allegation that Milgaard said, "I fixed her," or "I got her," when he got back into the car after the supposed attack, made the story more believable than if Wilson had said that Milgaard had declared he stabbed the woman, Pringle said.

Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson (right) has previously told the inquiry he was "a mess" from using LSD, speed and hashish in 1969 and 1970. His mind was often fuzzy. Police manipulated him by asking suggestive questions and giving him the impression that he might be blamed for the murder if Milgaard were not.

Asked why he lied, Wilson said: "To protect my own ass. I was scared, paranoid that they might charge me."

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison before he released in 1992 after the case was reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada. Wilson had recanted in 1990 and repeated the recantation at the Supreme Court.

DNA evidence was used to prove Milgaard's innocence in 1997 and to convict serial rapist Larry Fisher in 1999. The commission of inquiry is looking into the original investigation, the prosecution that led to the wrongful conviction and the actions of justice officials in the years afterwards, as new information became available.

The inquiry heard last week that after Wilson recanted, the RCMP heard allegations from another witness, George Lapchuk, that Wilson may have been paid to change his story.

The lawyer for former Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell complained to Commissioner Edward MacCallum that Milgaard's lawyer had last week taken evidence out of context and unfairly made her client look bad.

Lawyer Catherine Knox said Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, gave the wrong impression last week when he suggested that Caldwell's handwritten notes, made prior to the trial, showed Caldwell deliberately kept evidence out of the trial that could have shown Wilson was "an unsavoury character."

Such information would have led to the judge warning the jury to weigh Wilson's evidence carefully because he might have a selfish reason for speaking against Milgaard.

Knox said the inquiry will hear in the future that Caldwell left out the information for a legitimate reason. Caldwell and Tallis had discussed the matter at the preliminary hearing, which resulted in Caldwell agreeing in that public forum to leave out the negative information about Milgaard.

Wolch stood by his assertion.

Police connected Miller murder to other rapes

Police investigating the 1969 rape and murder of Gail Miller correctly believed the crime was committed by the same person who had sexually assaulted two other women in the same neighbourhood in recent months, David Milgaard's lawyer showed Tuesday.

Hersh Wolch

Weeks before police obtained a statement from Ron Wilson implicating Milgaard in the murder, an investigator wrote a report saying police believed the previous rapes "were definitely committed by the same person" who killed Miller, lawyer Hersh Wolch (right) showed the Milgaard inquiry.

Wolch referred to an April 7, 1969, report by an RCMP officer working with Saskatoon police on the Miller case.

"It is believed that the rapes which occurred in this area in the late fall of 1968 are definitely connected to this offence," the report says.

Wilson's mother, Shirley Wilson, who testified at the inquiry Tuesday, said she thought police were talking about those rape victims when they told her that "if he gets off" there were two other girls who had lived.

Milgaard was wrongfully convicted of the murder, based in part on the false testimony of Ron Wilson, who has said police manipulated him into lying by asking suggestive questions while implying he might be blamed if Milgaard was not.

Milgaard was never charged with the two other rapes. Instead, months after Milgaard was convicted, Larry Fisher admitted he had committed them. Thirty years later, Fisher was also convicted of killing Miller.

That was after Milgaard had spent 23 years in prison for the crime and after DNA from Miller's clothing was linked to Fisher, not Milgaard. Milgaard was released from prison in 1992.

Despite the investigators' initial, correct belief that the other neighbourhood rapes were committed by the same person who killed Miller, they did not revisit the matter after Fisher confessed.

That refusal eventually led to Joyce Milgaard's allegation of a coverup by justice officials and is one of the things the commission of inquiry is assigned to investigate.

Earlier in the day, Ron Wilson's main complaint against the Crown prosecutor at Milgaard's 1970 trial evaporated. The admission came during cross-examination by T.D.R. Caldwell's lawyer, Catherine Knox.

Wilson has said, since he recanted his testimony in 1990, that when Caldwell spoke to him before the trial, Caldwell implied Wilson should lengthen the time he was separated from Milgaard on the day of Miller's murder, which was when Milgaard was supposed to have committed the act.

Wilson acknowledged Tuesday that Caldwell had not suggested he change his story. Instead, Knox showed that Wilson gave the same length of time -- 15 minutes -- at Milgaard's trial as he had in a May 23, 1969 statement implicating Milgaard.

Knox showed that Wilson had reduced the separation to five minutes during the preliminary hearing several months before the trial. Wilson agreed that Caldwell merely suggested Wilson think carefully about the length of time he and Milgaard were separated before answering the question.

Wilson also backed off another claim against Caldwell, acknowledging that Milgaard's lawyer, Calvin Tallis, could have better attacked Wilson's lies if he had known about Wilson's original March 3, 1969, statement, which denied any wrongdoing by Milgaard.

Knox showed Tallis questioned Wilson about the March 3 statement at the preliminary hearing and the trial.

Alleged Milgaard-Miller link nonsense, inquiry hears

SASKATOON - Some startling information came out Wednesday at the inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard - suggestions, quickly discounted, that Milgaard might have had a relationship with Gail Miller.

Miller was the 20-year-old nursing assistant who was raped and murdered in Saskatoon in 1969.

Milgaard spent 23 years behind bars for the crime, although he was later freed and exonerated thanks to DNA evidence that proved he didn't kill her.

For the first time at the inquiry that began in January, evidence was introduced suggesting a possible relationship between Milgaard and Miller.

Miller's sister Peggy Morrow was shown a hand-written police statement with her signature on it that talks about letters she received from Miller concerning a boy she'd met in Swift Current named David Milgaard.

Morrow said police talked to her three times in the months after her sister was killed.

She said she told them everything she could think of about her sister's friends and habits - even a detailed description of her cosmetic bag.

However, Morrow said she never said anything to police about having received letters while Gail was at nurses training in Swift Current.

And she vehemently denied she had ever told police her sister and Milgaard knew each other.

Milgaard's lawyer Hersh Wolch pointed out that in '67 or '68, Milgaard would have been 14 or 15.

He asked Morrow about the possibility of Miller being involved with a "14-year-old hippie."

"I knew Gail and she would never have gone with someone that much younger," Morrow said.

The idea makes no sense at all, she said.

During her testimony, Morrow suggested the statement may have been falsified.

The lawyers representing police and prosecutors did not challenge her assertion.

Miller's sister disputes police statement

Gail Miller's sister told police in 1969 that David Milgaard had been Gail's steady boyfriend years before she was murdered, according to a police statement presented to the Milgaard inquiry Wednesday.

But Peggy Morrow told the inquiry she has no memory of giving Saskatoon police that information.

Morrow added Miller would have been 19 at the time, and Milgaard 14, and her sister wouldn't have dated a boy five years younger.

The statement was taken April 15, 1969, by Det. Sgt. George Reid at the Saskatoon police station. It was written in his hand and signed by Morrow, whose name then was Peggy Miller. It says Peggy came to the station with her mother.

According to the statement, Peggy said she had received three letters from Gail when Gail was in nurse's training in Swift Current.

The statement says Gail wrote in the letters that she had a steady boyfriend named David Milgaard, who was from Regina and who came to Swift Current every weekend to visit her. It says that Gail thought David was a nice guy but that Peggy had never met him.

The document says Peggy thought she had the letters at home.

"I do not recall ever, ever making that statement," Morrow told the inquiry Wednesday.

Nor does she remember coming to Saskatoon with her mother to give the statement.

She first heard of it in 1990 when RCMP revisited the case in response to Milgaard's request for mercy from the justice minister.

Miller did her hospital practicum for her nursing assistant training in Swift Current about a year before starting work in Saskatoon in the fall of 1968. At that time, Gail was 19 and Milgaard, 14.

"It makes no sense," said Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch. Morrow agreed.

Miller was killed Jan. 31, 1969. Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the crime before being released in 1992. DNA proved his innocence in 1997 and helped convicted serial rapist Larry Fisher in 1999.

Other documents referred to at the inquiry show that Reid had gone to Delisle on March 10, 1969, in part to see if Peggy recognized "new names."

Police had received their first allegation against Milgaard on March 2, when Albert Cadrain told them he had seen blood on Milgaard's clothing. By March 3 police had statements of denial from Milgaard and Ron Wilson, who, along with Nichol John, had come to Saskatoon the morning of Jan. 31 to pick up Cadrain for a trip to Edmonton and Calgary.

Documents also showed Morrow described her sister's blue, zipper-top cosmetic case and pink powder compact to police. Her description was markedly different from the descriptions of those items given by travelling companions who falsely implicated Milgaard in murder.

In 1991, the Miller family issued a statement saying they had reasonable doubt about Milgaard's guilt. Wilson and Cadrain had recanted by that time. The next year, the case was reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada and Milgaard was released.

Morrow told RCMP in 1993 that during Milgaard's trial, as she and other witnesses waited in a room to testify, Nichol John said that she had seen Milgaard murder Miller and that she did not intend to say anything at the trial.

Morrow also said authorities did not keep the Miller family apprised of developments in the case in 1969 or in the years that followed. She said she and other family members received most of their information from the news media. She first heard Fisher had been arrested in 1997 from a StarPhoenix reporter.

Morrow agreed with Joyce Milgaard's lawyer, James Lockyer, that the family should have been given more information.

Later in the day, the inquiry heard that George Lapchuk, one of the people who said he had seen Milgaard re-enact the murder during a motel room party, had admitted he lied.

According to statements and Supreme Court testimony of Lapchuk's former wife, Launa Edwards, which was read into evidence at the inquiry, Lapchuk made the admission on three occasions prior to 1991. Lapchuk has since died.

The first admission was in 1986 when Edwards and Lapchuk were visiting Bobbi Stadnyk, who had been lifelong, loyal friends with Lapchuk and Craig Melnyk, another of the motel room witnesses. Lapchuk said his lies had helped send Milgaard to prison for a rape and murder he didn't commit, Edwards said.

"He said he'd given them exactly what they wanted. It seemed clear he'd lied," Edwards said.

"He said it with indifference."

A few years later, Edwards overheard Lapchuk talking with Melnyk about how they both had lied. Melnyk was in agreement, Edwards said.

She said Lapchuk had more than once "traded things, information" to avoid going to jail for "things police had on him."

The third time was late one night when the couple was alone. Lapchuk was drunk and remorseful when he said he lied, Edwards said.

Melnyk told the inquiry earlier this year that he did not lie when he testified at Milgaard's trial.

The inquiry also heard the Supreme Court transcript testimony of Stadnyk, who said Lapchuk never told her he lied.

Nichol John's friend, Barbara Wispinski, whose name was Berrard in 1969, also took the stand Wednesday.

She said John told her in 1969 that while she was in Saskatoon, Milgaard had gone to check out a house he might break into and that when he came back he was covered in blood and said he had "killed her."

Wispinski said she has used drugs, such as morphine and heroin, off and on through her adult life. She hasn't used drugs in the past two years but thinks the drugs have affected her memory.

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