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David Milgaard was 16 years old when a false tip provided to Saskatoon city police led to his arrest on charges of rape and murder in connection with the death of Gail Miller, a nurse who was attacked and killed on her way to work on a February morning in 1969.
The following year, Milgaard stood trial and was ultimately convicted by a jury. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal later failed to overturn his conviction, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his case. For more than two decades, he suffered in prison while his mother, Joyce, devoted herself to fighting for his freedom.
In April 1992, those efforts paid off and the Supreme Court concluded that his conviction should be quashed and a new trial ordered. He was released from prison, but the Crown refused to conduct a new trial, opting instead to enter a stay of proceedings. It took five more years to clear his name through DNA testing — which also identified the true killer, serial rapist Larry Fisher. Fisher was convicted in 1999.
The Saskatchewan government compensated Milgaard with $10 million and in 2004 ordered a public inquiry into his wrongful conviction.
Milgaard occasionally gives public talks about his experience in the justice system, and recently contributed to a book entitled Canada at 150: Building a Free and Democratic Society. An excerpt appears below.
By David Milgaard
On April 16, 1992, I was released after spending almost 23 years inside prison for a crime I did not commit.
Prison is horrible.
The Supreme Court of Canada was not clear about my innocence and sent my case back to Saskatchewan for them to review. Saskatchewan would not go forward with a new trial.
This was their way of hiding the fact that they had convicted an innocent man. There was no apology to me and my family. This was the worst possible way to leave anyone with no clear verdict specific to innocence.
In the end, DNA cleared my name.
There were many factors contributing to my release. The one strongest reason is because my mother never gave up. She fired up the Canadian public who believe in what is right and just, and this made a difference.
Wrongly convicted people are in a very bad situation. We must remove the legal obstacles, especially the criteria that is keeping them from having their cases reviewed quickly and efficiently. If anyone can demonstrate that they are innocent, their case should be heard immediately.
The present Ministerial Review Process fails us miserably. We are failing innocent people twice. These men, women and in some cases children have done no wrong. There is no need to keep these people for years inside prison.
This is the worst way possible to treat our innocent.
We have had inquiry after inquiry recommend we create an independent board of review. Why have these recommendations been ignored?
I know how it feels to be inside those walls for so long.
This is not justice; this is just plain wrong.
Excerpted from Canada at 150: Building a Free and Democratic Society, edited by Heather MacIvor and Arthur Milnes.