One of the unfortunate consequences of justice delayed is that many people die, move, disappear, retire, or lose their recollection of events 35 years after the fact. Nichol John, who was a key witness in the original Milgaard trial, now claims that she cannot remember what happened on the day that Gail Miller was killed.
Initially, Nichol did not say anything to the police that suggested David's involvement in the murder. However, two months after Nichol was first questioned, the police held the 16-year-old girl for two nights; she was also shown Gail Miller's bloody uniform, taken to the scene of the gruesome murder, and then back to a hotel where she was asked to provide a written statement about David Milgaard. At that point, she wrote that she had seen David kill Gail Miller. But by the time that the trial rolled around, Nichol more or less recanted her written statement by saying that she couldn't recall what had happened that day.
On Monday, March the 7th, Nichol John used the term, "I don't remember" almost 100 times in the Milgaard Inquiry, according to a CBC news report. That's her story and she's sticking to it.
Memory is an elusive beast. I can hardly remember what I did last Sunday and I'd be hard-pressed to provide details for anything that occurred to me 35 years ago. But if I saw someone stabbing and raping another person, I'm pretty sure that the only problem that I would have would be FORGETTING that morbid day, which would haunt me for the rest of my life. I may not remember every single detail of the tragedy, but I would certainly recall whether or not I had witnessed such an event.
Nichol John was not treated properly by the police at the time of the Miller investigation. She was a juvenile, she was held against her will, and she was not provided with a legal aid lawyer. If Nichol had been an upper middle-class suburban kid like me, she would have called her parents, and they would have had a top-notch attorney down to that jail in two seconds flat. Instead, she spent two nights locked up in an empty jail and became hysterical. A matron was called in to calm her down and the next day, the police took poor Nicole to the scene of the Miller murder.
It was reprehensible that the officers took Nichol John to the scene of the crime. Then they left her alone with Ron Wilson, David's other traveling companion, and the two decided to pin the crime on David. That's what Wilson said years later when he retracted his testimony. It's obvious that Nichol was coerced into telling law-enforcement exactly what they wanted to hear. She was young. She was terrified and she wanted to get the hell out of there! It's hard to blame a traumatized 16-year-old girl for her behavior at that time.
On Wednesday, the inquiry heard that Nichol traveled from her home in B.C. to visit doctors in Ottawa, Penetanguishene, and Philadelphia, at the request of justice investigators in 1991 and 1992. Tim Cook, reporter from Saskatoon, said that "Justice Department memos from the time show the experts explored reasons why she might have repressed her memories, including, guilt, embarrassment and post-traumatic stress disorder." That's interesting. Ordinarily, that statement would have prompted me to write a long diatribe regarding the validity of certain recovered memories EXCEPT that this particular debate is not academic.
I don't have to speculate as to whether or not Nichol repressed a memory of murder because DNA proved that David didn't kill Gail Miller - Larry Fisher did. Thus, Nichol had nothing to repress. She never saw Milgaard murder Miller because he didn't do it. Case closed! The reason that Nichol has to say that she can't remember events is because she can no longer claim to have seen a vicious act that never occurred. She may still be afraid of the police and confused about what happened on that dark day many years ago. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though Nichol John's testimony will be able to shed any light on her actual experience as the time of the Miller murder.
Sigrid Macdonald. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.