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Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard

page ten

David Milgaard and mother Joyce

Rape victims never told Fisher confessed to crimes

Saskatoon police never told two women that the man who had raped them had been caught, had confessed and was sent to jail, the Milgaard inquiry heard Monday.

Instead, the women learned of Larry Fisher's 1971 convictions 20 years later from David Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, they said.

Hearing the news from an unofficial source was upsetting, one of the women told the inquiry.

"I didn't think it was up to a total stranger. I thought that's what the police are for," said the woman who was sexually assaulted Nov. 14, 1968, when she was 16, and who will be known in documents as victim No. 2.

Joyce Milgaard spoke to Fisher's rape victims in 1990 and 1991, when she was gathering evidence to help David's application to have his case reopened.

Victim No. 1, who was raped Oct. 21, 1968, when she was 22, said she wished she had known over the years that her assailant had been caught.

James Lockyer, Joyce Milgaard's lawyer, asked the women if they had ever received apologies from police or any other authorities for having been left in the dark for so long. Neither had.

The question led to Commissioner Edward MacCallum telling James Lockyer that whether Fisher's rape victims received apologies is not relevant to the commission, saying that matter is "collateral" to the commission's mandate.

Lockyer responded that the victims not being informed of Fisher's conviction was part of the concealment of information which led to David Milgaard's 23 years of imprisonment for the crime he didn't commit.

The revelation of Fisher's other convictions, in an anonymous phone call to Milgaard's lawyer in 1990, led to Milgaard's 1992 release, his eventual exoneration through DNA evidence and Fisher's 1999 conviction for Miller's murder, Lockyer said.

MacCallum said he has not heard enough evidence to characterize police actions as concealment.

The failure of police and justice officials to apologize is indicative of attitudes, especially within institutions, he said.

Guy Paul Morin

Apologies from police at another wrongful conviction inquiry were cathartic, Lockyer said, referring to that of Guy Paul Morin, who served 18 months for the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop.

Neither of Monday's witnesses has received an explanation for why she wasn't told about Fisher, they said.

"Everybody I ask, they say the same thing, they don't have the answer," victim No. 2 said. "I'd like to know who does know."

Lawyer Richard Elson, who represents Saskatoon Police Service, said the police have an explanation, which will emerge in future hearings, when members of the department take the stand.

The women didn't realize that a photograph of the rapist, Larry Fisher, had been among the ones police had shown them while investigating their attacks, they said. Neither was able to identify her assailant.

A letter entered at the wrongful conviction inquiry Monday shows Saskatoon's top police officers and Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell were aware that investigators had shown Fisher's picture to both women.

Gail Miller

The inquiry has received other documents showing police were convinced initially that Gail Miller's killer was the same person who had sexually assaulted three women in Saskatoon in previous months.

Monday's document was the first to show that authorities were aware of Fisher as a suspect around the time that David Milgaard was wrongfully prosecuted and convicted of raping and murdering nursing assistant Gail Miller on Jan. 31, 1969.

The identities of the two women who testified Monday are subject to a publication ban, as are the identities of eight other sexual assault victims who will testify or will be referred to at the inquiry.

A total publication ban was implemented Monday, after a partial ban declared last week was amended. Transcripts and public documents to be posted on the commission's website will have the victims' names removed and replaced with a victim number from one to 10, said commission counsel Doug Hodson. Protecting the identities will require that more than 300,000 pages of documents, plus each day's hearing transcripts, be searched and edited before posting to the website.


Fisher's rape victims testifying at Milgaard inquiry

SASKATOON - With Larry Fisher's rape victims telling their stories at the David Milgaard inquiry this week, some light may be shed on one of the perennial mysteries of the case - why didn't police investigate Larry Fisher for Gail Miller's murder instead of Milgaard?

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the 1969 murder. He was cleared by DNA evidence and Fisher was convicted of the crime in 1999.

In the months leading up to her rape and stabbing death, there were five sexual assaults in Saskatoon.

All occurred in the same area and shared chillingly similar details about women being grabbed from behind, forced to undress at knifepoint then being sexually assaulted.

In 1971, Fisher was convicted of all five assaults. However, none of the victims was ever told that the man who attacked them was in prison.

One victim told the inquiry Monday she didn't find out Fisher had been convicted and imprisoned until 20 years later - and then the news came not from the authorities but from Milgaard's mother.

The woman said she was upset when she finally found out in 1990 or 1991.

"I didn't think it was up to a total stranger," said the woman, who can't be named because of a publication ban.

"I thought, 'That's what the police are for.'"

Milgaard and his supporters have always believed the authorities concealed Fisher's conviction so they would not be pressured to reopen Milgaard's case.

The inquiry headed by Commissioner Edward MacCallum is expected to run all year.


Rape victims not told attacker confessed: inquiry

SASKATOON (CP) - Saskatoon police didn't inform Larry Fisher's rape victims that he had confessed to attacking them back in the late 1960s and was serving time for the crimes, two of the women testified Monday.

On the stand at the inquiry into David Milgaard's wrongful conviction, both women, who can't be named under a publication ban, said that they didn't know their cases had been solved until 1990, when Milgaard's mother Joyce showed up on their doorstep as she was trying to collect evidence that would free her son.

"The first person I heard it from was Mrs. Milgaard," the first of Fisher's victims testified under questioning Monday. "She just came over to my house and wanted to talk to me. She just tried to tell me that her son didn't do that, it was Larry Fisher."

Milgaard spent 23 years of his life in prison for the January 1969 rape and murder of Gail Miller - a crime that, 30 years later, he was exonerated for after DNA evidence proved Fisher had done it.

Miller's murder happened around the same time Fisher assaulted four other women in Saskatoon and lawyers for the Milgaard family have long contended that police tried to keep Fisher's attacks quiet so as to not cast doubt on Milgaard's murder conviction.

"The concealment of the crimes perpetrated on these ladies was a crucial factor in the continuation of David Milgaard's wrongful conviction for 23 years and it was the exposure of the crimes that were perpetrated on these ladies which resulted in David Milgaard's eventual release," lawyer James Lockyer told Justice Edward MacCallum.

MacCallum pointed out that there has been no evidence that the inquiry has heard so far that would prove police concealed information. The lawyer for the Saskatoon Police Service said that future witnesses will explain why Fisher's victims were not told of his confessions.

The inquiry has heard how Fisher's first-known victim was attacked three months prior to Miller's death in October 1968. The second and third were attacked November of that same year and the fourth in February 1970.

During that time, police were building their murder case against 16-year-old Milgaard, who was passing through town with friends on the morning Miller was murdered.

Fisher did not come to the police's attention until September 1970, eight months after Milgaard was convicted. He was arrested by police in Fort Garry, Man., while assaulting another woman.

Fisher pleaded guilty to that assault, plus another assault a month earlier also in Fort Garry. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was eventually charged with all four attacks in Saskatoon and pleaded guilty to those as well.

Fisher's second victim testified that she is bothered by the fact that she had to find out about Fisher's conviction from Joyce Milgaard.

"I didn't think it was up to a total stranger, I figured that is what the police are for," she said.

The rest of Fisher's victims are scheduled to testify this week.

MacCallum's task is to examine all of the evidence surrounding David Milgaard's wrongful conviction and how the authorities handled exculpatory evidence in the years that followed.

He cannot assign blame, but can make recommendations to prevent a similar occurrence.


Woman groped by Fisher a block from where Miller was murdered

SASKATOON -- A woman groped by a man within minutes of Gail Miller's 1969 murder only about a block from where it happened says there is no doubt her attacker was Larry Fisher.

Testifying at the David Milgaard inquiry in Saskatoon Tuesday, the woman said she always believed the person who attacked her was the same person that murdered Miller.

She said she told police about the attack right after it happened.

But outside of some initial interviews and questions, she said didn't hear from investigators again.

It wasn't until she saw Fisher's picture in a 1991 newspaper article that she realized he was her attacker.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for Miller's rape and murder a crime that DNA evidence would eventually link to Fisher.


Milgaard inquiry hears from more women who had run-ins with Larry Fisher

SASKATOON (CP) - A woman who was groped by a man within minutes of Gail Miller's 1969 murder in the same neighbourhood where it happened says there is no doubt in her mind that her attacker was Larry Fisher.

The woman, who cannot be named because of a publication ban, appeared Tuesday at the inquiry into David Milgaard's wrongful conviction in Miller's death. 

She testified she always believed the person who forcefully ran his hands up her legs that morning was the same person who raped and killed Miller.

She said she told police about the attack on the same day it happened after she found out that Miller had been killed.

But outside of the initial interview, a trip to the police station to be shown some mug shots and a follow-up meeting with the RCMP, she said she can't remember hearing from investigators again.

It wasn't until a 1991 newspaper article about Milgaard that the woman realized it was Fisher who had attacked her.

The article had a picture of Fisher with it. The woman said she instantly recognized him.

"I started crying and said, 'Oh my God. That is the person that attacked me,' " the woman said. "I'm absolutely 100 per cent sure. It was like I was there all over again."

After she saw the photo, the woman testified that she got in touch with Milgaard's lawyer to tell her story.

"I was very concerned that something was not right and that an injustice had been done," she said.

A year later she testified at the Supreme Court hearing that led to Milgaard's conviction being overturned.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for Miller's murder before he was released. DNA evidence eventually linked Fisher to the crime.

Miller's murder happened around the same time Fisher assaulted four other women in Saskatoon.

Lawyers for the Milgaard family have long contended that police tried to keep Fisher's attacks quiet so as to not cast doubt on Milgaard's murder conviction. However, the inquiry has heard no direct evidence to support that.

Police records show investigators didn't open a separate file to document the second attack on the morning Miller was murdered. Instead they chose to include the woman's statement in Miller's file.

The woman, who was 19 at the time, said she told officers her attacker was a stocky man who was older than she was.

Milgaard was a lanky 16-year-old at the time.

The woman did remember one officer telling her she was lucky she wasn't the one who was killed.

"The comment was, 'you know, you were very lucky you were wearing slacks that day because somebody got it right after you and they were wearing a dress,' " the woman testified.

"That was one of the comments that has always stuck with me."

Under cross-examination, Fisher's lawyer, Brian Beresh, questioned the woman about why the description of her attacker in 1969 contained no facial features, but she was able to recognize Fisher immediately more than 20 years later.

Beresh used a friendly letter the woman wrote to Milgaard's lawyer after the Supreme Court hearing to suggest that the woman was sympathetic to Milgaard's cause.

"It appears that you see yourself there as part of somebody's team," Beresh said.

"I guess maybe you are putting that into that sir," the woman responded. "I was writing a note. I had no idea around the protocols or what one has to do or say or the behaviours."

Justice Edward MacCallum, the judge hearing the inquiry, must examine all the evidence surrounding Milgaard's wrongful conviction and how the authorities handled information that pointed toward his innocence.

He cannot assign blame, but can make recommendations to prevent something similar from happening.

The inquiry is scheduled to hear from one more of Fisher's assault victims on Wednesday before it adjourns for the month of May.

When the hearing reconvenes, police officers involved in the Milgaard case are to begin giving their evidence.


Woman identifies Fisher as attacker

A Saskatoon woman who was indecently assaulted on Jan. 31, 1969 -- the morning Gail Miller was raped and murdered -- said she recognized Larry Fisher as her attacker the instant she saw his photograph in a Toronto newspaper in 1991.

But Fisher's lawyer tried Tuesday at the Milgaard inquiry to distance his client from the assault, for which no one was ever charged. The day of the attacks, Saskatoon police took a statement from the then-19-year-old university student and had her look at mug shots of possible suspects.

She was not able to identify her assailant from the photos, but said police told her the same man had "got" a woman wearing a dress the same day.

The witness, known in public documents as victim No. 4, said she always believed that the man sent to prison for Miller's murder was the same person who had assaulted her.

David Milgaard was wrongfully convicted of Miller's murder and spent 23 years in prison before the Supreme Court of Canada reviewed his case, including information about Fisher's other crimes. DNA evidence proved Milgaard's innocence in 1997 and was used to help convict Fisher in 1999.

Brian Beresh, Fisher's lawyer, questioned the woman on differences in the way she described the assault from statements to police in 1969 and later testimony in the early 1990s.

The woman reported to police in 1969 that a man she encountered as she walked on Avenue H South shortly after 7 a.m. ran his hands up and down her legs, followed her briefly afterward and then disappeared down an alley. In 1992, she told the Supreme Court the man ran his hand over her crotch.

She said Tuesday she was less explicit in 1969 in front of her father and the male police officers who were questioning her. Beresh also suggested a letter the woman wrote to Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, showed she had developed sympathy for the Milgaards. The woman said she was living in Toronto in 1991 when she saw a newspaper article about Milgaard's attempts to have his case reopened. The article included photographs of Milgaard and Fisher. She said her recognition of Fisher was "absolutely, 100 per cent sure."

"I felt like I was there all over again," she said, recalling she began to shake and cry when she saw the picture in the paper.

The witness said she was confused because it seemed the man who assaulted her had not, after all, been convicted. She didn't go to the authorities until another story about Milgaard appeared in the paper a short time later.

She eventually got a home number for Milgaard's lawyer at the time, David Asper. Asper and the Milgaards had never heard of a second assault on the morning of Miller's murder, but they obtained a statement from her. She eventually testified at the Supreme Court.

Unlike other sexual assault victim witnesses, victim No. 4 testified in the open hearing room. She spoke with confidence and sometimes sparred with Beresh, pointing out that some of his questions were redundant.

The inquiry also heard Tuesday from another of Fisher's victims who was never told that Fisher had confessed to sexually assaulting her. That woman, known in documents as victim No. 3, was dragged down an alley near Wiggins Avenue on Nov. 29, 1968, and told to undress. Her assailant ran away when a car came down the alley.

She was shown photographs when she reported the incident and again after Gail Miller was murdered, but was not able to identify her assailant. When Miller was killed, the woman said her mother had commented that it could have been her.

The woman said she learned in 1991 from Joyce Milgaard that Fisher had been convicted of assaulting her. Fisher had confessed to that attempted sexual assault at the same time he confessed to raping another woman just three weeks after Milgaard was convicted of killing Miller.


Rape victims left in dark about Fisher

Larry Fisher raped a teenager in a vicious attack on Avenue B South three weeks after David Milgaard was wrongfully convicted for Fisher's rape and murder of Gail Miller.

The victim told the Milgaard inquiry Wednesday she was able to put the Feb. 21, 1970, attack out of her mind until 1991, when Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, approached her to ask if she knew Fisher had been convicted of the crime. The conversation opened the door to flashbacks that have caused the woman extreme anxiety ever since, she said.

"After she came into my life, she opened that door I had slammed on that attack. I had put that out of my mind. All the flashbacks of the attack came back and I had to deal with everything else that had happened to me," she said.

Saskatoon police told the woman, known in public documents as victim No. 5, that her attacker had been caught in Winnipeg and had confessed to raping her, she said.

Three of Fisher's other victims from 1968 have said police never told them he had been charged and pleaded guilty in 1971 to offences against them. Those women said Joyce Milgaard was the first to tell them, in 1991, that Fisher confessed to the Saskatoon sexual assaults.

Fisher had been caught raping a woman in Winnipeg in September 1970. He pleaded guilty to two rapes in Winnipeg and three rapes and an attempted rape in Saskatoon.

A 1971 police report which closed victim No. 5's case file noted the victim had been informed of "the alleged mental condition of the accused."

The woman was told her attacker would serve time at a mental institution, she said Wednesday.

The woman told Joyce Milgaard that one of the officers who told her about Fisher's arrest said the assault was similar to the Miller attack, according to a 1991 report written by Paul Henderson, a private investigator who was with Joyce Milgaard when she spoke with the victim.

At the time, Milgaard was gathering evidence to support her efforts to have David's case reopened.

The Supreme Court of Canada heard the matter in 1992 and quashed the conviction. Two days later, 23 years after the murder, Milgaard was released. In 1997, DNA proved his innocence and helped convict Fisher of the crime in 1999.

Joyce Milgaard has accused police and justice officials of covering up information that could have helped to free David years sooner.

The commission of inquiry, which began hearings in January, is looking into the original police investigation, Milgaard's prosecution and wrongful conviction and whether the case should have been reopened when new information became available.

The attack against victim No. 5 was among four Saskatoon assaults outlined in a March 17, 1971, letter from Saskatoon deputy police chief L.J. Corey to the Regina prosecutor who handled the Saskatoon charges against Fisher.

The letter states that Crown prosecutor T.D.R. Caldwell had asked police to forward a summary of the four Saskatoon offences to Regina.

The other assaults occurred before Miller's murder, in October and November 1968.

Documents now before the commission show that when police were investigating Miller's death, they initially thought the killer was the same person who had committed the October and November assaults.

Caldwell prosecuted Milgaard at his 1970 trial.

When Fisher was caught in Winnipeg in the fall of 1970, Saskatoon detective Eddy Karst was sent to Winnipeg to interview him. Karst was a lead investigator in the Miller investigation.

Fisher was sent from Winnipeg to Regina, not Saskatoon, to plead guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to jail terms concurrent with the time he was already serving for the Winnipeg rapes.

The inquiry has adjourned for a previously scheduled five-week break. Hearings resume May 30 at the Radisson Hotel.

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