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Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard

page thirteen

David Milgaard in jail cell

Officer aware of Fisher conviction
Retired staff sergeant says knowledge came in small increments

Saskatoon police knew Larry Fisher had been convicted in Regina in 1971 of rapes that occurred in Saskatoon, a former officer told the Milgaard wrongful conviction inquiry Thursday.

Retired Staff Sgt. Harry Valila is the first Saskatoon police officer to say he knew about the convictions.

Other more senior officers have denied that they were aware of the facts, which David Milgaard's supporters say were deliberately suppressed while he spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Valila said he had learned by 1974 that Larry Fisher had been convicted of four Saskatoon rapes and one attempted rape.

Gail Miller

Milgaard was convicted in 1970 of another of Fisher's crimes, the rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller.

Fisher was caught raping a woman in Winnipeg in August 1970 and later confessed to two of the Saskatoon offences. Saskatoon Det. Ed Karst and Insp. H. Nordstrom were sent to Winnipeg in December 1970 to interview Fisher. In early 1971 Fisher was taken to Regina, where he pleaded guilty to four rapes in Saskatoon and one attempted rape.

Valila told the Milgaard inquiry he learned of the unusual handling of the matter in small increments over several years.

Valila was a corporal in the morality section, which dealt with rape cases, when he first heard "talk around the station" that some members of the Saskatoon police department had gone to Winnipeg to interview somebody about "some of our files."

Sometime after Valila was promoted to the detective section in 1971, he learned that Karst and Nordstrom were the officers who went. Valila wasn't surprised Karst would be sent because he was known as a good investigator.

But Valila was surprised that Nordstrom had gone because he was an administrator whom Valila had never known to be involved in an actual investigation.

Valila said a police officer told him, or he overheard a discussion, that "somebody had pleaded guilty in Regina to some of our files."

There were no names when he first heard, he said.

"Later on, I can't tell you how long, the name Larry Fisher surfaced," he told the inquiry Thursday.

The name meant nothing to Valila when he first heard it, but he was curious about why a Saskatoon file had been handled in Regina.

"It seemed rather odd. I couldn't understand why someone would appear in Regina on our charges unless he was apprehended there," he said.

Valila said he had a conversation with Nordstrom, who has since died, about the matter because he wondered if the Fisher rapes might have been files he had worked on when he was in the morality section.

Valila received a terse response from Nordstrom that Valila felt precluded further questions.

"His answer, as best I can remember was, 'They've been taken care of.' I never got any further. . . . He didn't allow me to elaborate any further. . . . He knew exactly what I was talking about," Valila said.

Investigators had been convinced in the first weeks of the Miller murder investigation that the killer was the same person who had raped other young women in the same neighbourhood in recent months. They were unsuccessful in finding out who that was and abandoned the rapist-as-murderer theory after Milgaard was identified as a possible suspect.

Milgaard was convicted based on statements by several other teenagers and in the absence of any physical evidence linking him to the crime.

He was sentenced to life in prison and served 23 years before his case was reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992. DNA was used to prove his innocence in 1992 and helped convict Fisher in 1999.

Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, worked for years trying to gather the evidence that would prove her son's innocence. She has long maintained that Saskatchewan justice officials covered up Fisher's conviction because they didn't want to re-open the Milgaard case. She believes David could have been released years earlier if justice officials had acknowledged the possibility of a miscarriage of justice.

The commission of inquiry is headed by Justice Edward MacCallum of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. It was called after Fisher exhausted his appeals of the Miller murder conviction and is looking into the murder investigation, the prosecution of Milgaard and whether the case should have been reopened when new information became available.

The inquiry also heard Thursday from retired RCMP Cpl. Ed Rasmussen. He disagreed with his former superior, Stan Edmondson, who on Wednesday had downplayed his own role in the Miller investigation.

Rasmussen said a report to RCMP headquarters was authored jointly by himself and Edmondson. Rasmussen said Edmondson had more information about the case than he, Rasmussen, had.

Edmondson thought that in February 1969 there was consensus among Saskatoon city police and RCMP helping in the investigation that Miller was murdered by the rapist who had attacked three women in the neighbourhood in recent months.

Investigation led by senior officer: retired detective

Another former Saskatoon police officer told the David Milgaard wrongful conviction inquiry Monday he wasn't in charge of the Gail Miller murder investigation; he just took orders from his superiors.

Retired Det. Eddy Karst, 76, conducted many of the police interviews central to the investigation that resulted in Milgaard being charged with Miller's January 1969 stabbing death.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the crime before his 1992 release. DNA evidence proved his innocence in 1997 and helped convict serial rapist Larry Fisher in 1999.

Karst said that as far as he knew, Lieut. Charles Short supervised most of the investigation and Supt. Jack Wood was the overall supervisor.

"I presume he was directing it," Karst said, noting that many meetings were held in Wood's office to discuss the case.

Former Lieut. Joe Penkala also "took a very active role in the whole case," Karst said.

Former Det. Raymond Mackie, Short and Penkala, "were really directing things," he said.

Wood and Penkala have downplayed their roles in the case. Short is deceased.

Karst's claim that he was not in charge of the file appears to be corroborated by reports which show the investigation had been going on for more than a month before he became a main investigator.

On March 2, 1969, Albert "Shorty" Cadrain came to the police station and was the first person to give information implicating Milgaard when he told Short that Milgaard had blood on his clothes the morning of the murder.

Short had Karst take a statement from Cadrain.

It was the first hot lead the police had received since the murder and police acted quickly to corroborate details of Cadrain's story. Parts of it checked out and Karst was sent to Winnipeg that same night to interview Milgaard.

Karst and RCMP Cpl. Ed Rasmussen interviewed Milgaard there and determined more investigation was needed.

Karst was also involved in interviews with Ron Wilson, who said Milgaard confessed to him.

Karst had less interaction with Nichol John, who signed a police statement saying she saw Milgaard stab a woman. John never repeated the statement at Milgaard's trial nor since.

After Milgaard was identified as a possible suspect most of the attention turned to him, but Penkala continued to pursue a commonly held police theory that the murder was committed by the same person who had raped two young women in the same neighbourhood in recent months and attempted to rape a third.

The common perpetrator theory turned out to be correct but it was eventually abandoned when lab tests indicated the rapist was a different blood type from the murderer.

Karst said Monday he was not aware of the common perpetrator theory, yet he acknowledged that he conducted an interview for the Miller investigation of a man who looked similar to a composite drawing of the rapist, which had been created based on the description of the one of the rape victims.

That suspect was cleared because his blood type didn't match the one gleaned from frozen semen found at the crime scene.

About nine months after Milgaard was convicted, Fisher was caught committing a rape in Winnipeg. He confessed to some of his Saskatoon rapes and Karst was sent to Winnipeg to interview him.

There is no record of what Fisher said and Karst's police notebooks from that era were destroyed sometime prior to 1990.

Fisher was taken to Regina in January 1971, where he pleaded guilty to committing three rapes and one indecent assault in Saskatoon.

Police did not inform the rape victims that their assailant had been convicted. Nor did authorities inform the news media, though they had earlier distributed public warnings about the rapist in the media.

Milgaard's supporters have said Saskatchewan justice officials deliberately suppressed information about Fisher's conviction because they didn't want to revisit the Milgaard conviction.

The commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Edward MacCallum of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, is looking into the murder investigation, the prosecution of Milgaard and whether the matter should have been reopened when new information came to light.

Detective doubted key witness after 'far out' statements

Former Saskatoon police Det. Eddy Karst said Tuesday he had doubts about the credibility of Albert "Shorty" Cadrain after Cadrain added "far out" elements to his original story implicating David Milgaard in the 1969 death of Gail Miller.

Cadrain was the first person to link Milgaard to the rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller.

Karst said Cadrain seemed sincere in his original claim that he saw blood on Milgaard's clothing the day of the murder.

But Karst told the Milgaard inquiry Tuesday he had doubts about Cadrain's later allegation that Milgaard was a member of the Mafia and that he had asked Cadrain to kill two other teenagers, Ron Wilson and Nichol John, because "they knew too much."

"It registered with me but I don't think I placed a lot of credence in it. It was too far out," Karst said.

"It didn't seem right."

The statements were so bizarre that Karst didn't write them into any police report until months later.

The remarks first showed up in a police document that outlines a theory of how the known facts about Milgaard could fit into murder scenarios.

That document is thought to have been authored by Det. Sgt. Ray Mackie. It is believed to have been used during a meeting of senior officers when they decided to bring in a Calgary polygraph expert to interrogate Wilson and John, who both insisted Milgaard was never out of their company long enough to have committed the murder.

Karst included Cadrain's allegations about Milgaard's Mafia ties and the request to kill the two teens in a July 2, 1969, report, about a month after Milgaard had been charged with Miller's murder and while police were preparing the case for the Crown prosecutor.

Karst's doubts about Cadrain's allegations were underscored by the believability of Wilson's and John's alibi for Milgaard. They also denied Milgaard had any blood on his clothing.

The three were interviewed separately and all gave essentially the same story.

Karst said Cadrain's "far out" remarks caused him to think they should be checked out thoroughly, but he said he didn't doubt Cadrain's claim that he saw blood on Milgaard's pants because Cadrain's five-year-old brother, Kenneth, also said he had seen blood, Karst said.

Commission counsel Doug Hodson pointed out that there is no police record of Kenneth's observation, and asked if it was possible Karst's memory had been affected by things he has heard in the years since then.

Karst thought he had an independent memory of the boy's remarks and said he might have written it in his police notebook at the time. The notebooks were destroyed prior to 1990, the commission has heard.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison before he was released in 1992. DNA evidence 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 murder investigation, the prosecution of Milgaard and whether the case should have been reopened as new information came to light.

Karst returns to the witness stand today.

Detective didn't connect Fisher rapes to murder

Saskatoon police Det. Eddy Karst says it never occurred to him that rapist Larry Fisher, who confessed to him in Winnipeg about crimes he committed in Saskatoon, was the same rapist once thought to have killed Gail Miller.

Karst said Wednesday he can't remember going to Winnipeg to talk to Fisher and can only answer questions about the incident based on recent readings of police documents from that period.

Karst was sent to Winnipeg 10 months after David Milgaard was convicted in January 1970 of murder in Miller's death. Winnipeg police had notified Saskatoon police that a former Saskatoon resident had been caught raping a woman and had admitted to committing some offences in Saskatoon, too.

Fisher told Karst he had raped a young woman in February 1970 and had tried to rape another young woman on Nov. 29, 1968, but had been scared off.

Documents presented to the Milgaard wrongful conviction inquiry show Karst asked Fisher if he had committed two other rapes in the fall of 1968, but Fisher denied involvement.

Those two rapes and the attempted rape were the unsolved cases Saskatoon police had originally linked to the death of Miller, who was killed in January 1969.

Karst has said he didn't know about a police theory that there was a common perpetrator, even though references to the rapes appear in numerous Miller investigation files.

Fisher didn't tell Karst he had lived in the basement of Albert Cadrain's house on Avenue O South at the time of Miller's death but Karst said even if Fisher had told him, it probably wouldn't have been enough for him to reopen the murder investigation.

Karst denied that he or Saskatoon police covered up Fisher's confessions and later convictions to avoid questions being raised about Milgaard's conviction.

Milgaard was in the process of appealing his murder conviction at the time of Fisher's confession and the information may have been useful to Milgaard, commission counsel Doug Hodson suggested to Karst.

Karst said it would have been wrong to knowingly withhold information that might show an innocent man had been convicted. Karst would have taken the matter to his superiors if he had suspected such a thing, he said.

Karst acknowledged Wednesday that it was unusual for a member of the detective unit, as he was, to be sent to Winnipeg to conduct interviews for the morality unit, which dealt with rape cases.

Although Karst denies knowing about the common perpetrator theory, records show police may have connected previous rapes to the rape that occurred three weeks after Milgaard's conviction. Karst was assigned to do some of the investigation on the rape. The record also shows Cadrain was questioned about whether he had any information about the new rape.

Karst said he didn't remember the incidents.

The inquiry also heard Wednesday that another Saskatoon police officer, Angus Weir, told a newspaper reporter in 1990 that he didn't learn about Fisher's conviction on a rape case he investigated until years later.

Documents presented at the inquiry show that Weir reported having spoken to the victim and telling her someone had been apprehended.

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