Milgaard Inquiry

Friday, February 25, 2005

Character Assassination

On Tuesday, David Milgaard's lawyer, James Lockyer, objected to questions asked by lawyer Aaron Fox, who represents former Saskatoon police detective, Eddy Karst. Fox was describing details of a March 1969 statement made by one of David's former girlfriends, Sharon Williams.

Williams wrote an 11-page statement about her experiences with David. Apparently, she'd run away with him, used drugs and slept with him. Hello! They were 16.

Firstly, it should be abundantly clear to everyone that David Milgaard is not on trial here. In fact, Inquiry commissioner Justice Edward MacCallum made a faux pas by saying that he is charged with finding out if Milgaard was wrongly convicted. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that David was wrongly convicted because he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1997. The point of the inquiry is not to find out IF a miscarriage of justice occurred, but rather to discover WHY such a travesty was allowed to take place in our industrialized Western nation.

Secondly, hasn't David Milgaard suffered enough? This character assassination is reminiscent of putting rape victims on trial. The only reason that Milgaard and his family are putting themselves through this stressful process is so that they can find out exactly what went wrong. That way certain parties can be held accountable for their acts and more importantly, we can try to implement structural changes to decrease the number of wrongful convictions in Canada.

Thirdly, let's remember that David Milgaard was a boy of 16 when he was arrested and charged with a vicious rape and murder. The year was 1969. He was a free spirit and called himself a hippie. Of course, he had a colorful history -- many people who came of age during that era did quite a bit of experimentation. Unlike Bill Clinton, most of us admit to having inhaled!

I'm exactly David's age -- approximately six months younger than he -- and I could never get out of bed in the morning and face the world if my exploits and adventures from my teens and twenties were hitting the newsstands. That kind of treatment is usually reserved for movie stars and politicians. It's bad enough to see character assassinations in the tabloids, but they definitely don't belong in public inquiries. Let's keep David's personal history out of this story as much as possible, unless it relates directly to his arrest.

Sigrid Macdonald

Monday, February 21, 2005

Death Penalty Errors Continue

"Despite the good intentions of judges, death penalty errors continue," according to George Ryan, outgoing Governor of Illinois. Ryan made these comments in a special article to the Register on February 13, 2005 .

Ryan cited the following facts, which affected him so powerfully that he declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois:

<<-Fact: For every eight people executed in this country since 1977, one innocent person has been set free. In the last 28 years, 117 death row prisoners have been exonerated and found innocent of the crimes that put them in line to meet the executioner.

In Illinois, we have executed 12 men on death row and we have exonerated 18.

Fact: Death sentences continue to be overturned all the time -- not just in Illinois, but also in 23 of the 38 states where the death penalty is legal.

Fact: A study done by a Columbia University law professor found that over a 23-year period, 68 percent of the cases which resulted in a death sentence had to be retried because of errors in the original trial.

And of those cases that were, 82 percent of the defendants did not get the death penalty at the second trial. Seven percent of them were found not guilty. ">>

WOW! This article should be mandatory reading in every high school, college and university class on current events, history, criminal law and political science. Anyone who has any ambivalence whatsoever about the death penalty should read this article. So should people who are 100% certain that the death penalty is required in some instances.

I admire George Ryan for changing his mind about the death penalty, and for implementing a moratorium. I support that. I think that we need to look at our sentencing, too. For example, giving Christopher Pittman a 30 year sentence for killing his grandparents when he was only 12 years old, and obviously having an adverse reaction to Zoloft is unfair. 12 years old? What about the studies that show that some teenagers are more prone to committing suicide on antidepressants? How does suicide differ from homicide -- they're both forms of violence. One is directed outwards and the other is directed internally.

The other sentence that was a horrible injustice was the guilty verdict for poor Andrea Yates, who was completely psychotic at the time that she took the lives of her little children. Thankfully, Andrea's sentence has been reversed. I hope that Christopher Pittman's attorneys launch a strong appeal.

But I digress. Back to the death penalty. In the 1970s, there was a trend towards a more rehabilitative model in the justice system as opposed to the punitive model that had been operating. Many criminals were seen as victims of class, race and bad circumstances. Then we had the victims' rights movement, which is essentially a good thing, but it led many people to return to the "eye for an eye" mentality.

Prisoner's rights aren't very popular at the moment. Many people think that prisoners lounge around in their Club Feds with their tennis courts and DVD players. Certain victims' rights groups strongly support the death penalty. We can understand why. We empathize -- I know that I do. I'm not foolish and naive. I don't think that all prisoners can be rehabilitated. Some people are too violent or disturbed to ever be readmitted to society. Fine. Lock the door and throw away the key. Do what we can for them inside the penitentiary but don't ever let them out.

Whatever happened to life WITHOUT parole? Many juries are only given the opportunity to sentence someone to life or to death. We need something in between that guarantees that violent criminals do not get out. Having said that, obviously, we have to be absolutely certain that someone is guilty as charged before we sentence them to anything, particularly life or life without parole. And we need to reserve this option for the most dangerous offenders, not kids who are incarcerated for selling drugs on their third strike.

Why is it that so many death penalty cases in Illinois, and in the United States in general, were thrown out upon retrial? That should make us all think twice before supporting something as irrevocable and final as the death penalty.

Read Governors Ryan's speech at

Sigrid Macdonald

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Albert Cadrain

Albert Cadrain was a friend of David's who testified against him at his trial. Albert said that he saw David with blood on his clothes. But what jurors didn't know was that the now deceased Albert took $2000 as a reward for giving that information. More importantly, he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized. Add to that the fact that David's friends were doing drugs at the time (Hey, it was the 60s!) and that they were being coerced by the police to implicate David as the killer, and the result was extremely flawed testimony.

It's hard to believe that anyone took Albert Cadrain's comments seriously during the trial. His comments were inconsistent, contradictory and bizarre. No one who talks about the Virgin Mary has much credibility unless it's the Pope.

I don't blame Albert at all; I see him as a victim. But why wasn't Albert's mental state brought up during David's appeal? It is entirely possible that David's conviction could have been reversed based on the knowledge that Albert Cadrain had been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown shortly after testifying against his friend.

One interesting yet horrifying fact is that the justice system did not simply make one error in the Milgaard case. It made dozens and dozens, and at every corner, if one individual had done something differently, it could have resulted in years of freedom for David Milgaard.

To read about Albert Cadrain in more detail, check out the article on the CBC web site at

Sigrid Macdonald

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