Milgaard Inquiry

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blame, blame, blame the victim

Ah yes, when all else fails, why not admonish the mother of a clearly established innocent man who spent 23 endless years behind bars rather than place responsibility on the police and prosecutors of this horrendous case?

That's exactly what Justice Edward MacCallum did this afternoon, after three years of reviewing, examining and analyzing reams of paperwork, processing 114 witnesses, spending 11.6 million dollars, and listening to the sad and sorry tale of the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard. In 1997, Milgaard was finally exonerated of the charge of murdering Gail Miller in Saskatoon in 1969 after DNA evidence proved conclusively that he could not have been the killer. During his almost quarter-century stay behind bars, his mother Joyce worked tirelessly with private investigators, her priceless lawyers Hersh Wolch and the inexhaustible David Asper, family members, friends, church supporters and members of the public who believed in her cause. She did everything she could, including appealing to the press and the prime minister, to free her son because she knew that if she didn't, Dave would have been there forever -- he'd already tried to escape out of desperation and had been shot by the police for doing so. And he refused to admit guilt or show remorse, hence, the parole board wouldn't let him out.

On second thought, I'm going to go one step further. Instead of still being in jail, Milgaard could easily be dead. He was bipolar, he was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time, and his medications were not well regulated. He also tried to kill himself twice in prison -- a little gang rape can really ruin your day! As the old saying goes, the third time is a charm, particularly for a man who would not have had any hope or reason to believe that he would ever see the daylight.

But instead of praising Joyce Milgaard for doing the system's prosecutorial work, and for actually finding the real killer, Larry Fisher, who remains behind bars for that murder, Justice MacCallum decided to slam her once again. She was overzealous. She was paranoid. She thought that there was a cover-up (funny that Larry Fisher was never tried in Saskatoon for his rape convictions and that the same cop who handled the Fisher rapes was working on the Milgaard case. What a coincidence! But not a cover-up, of course.)

Justice MacCallum did acknowledge that testimony from Nichol John should have been stricken from the record during Milgaard's original trial because what she had said on paper to the police about seeing David stab Gail, she never repeated again, particularly during the trial. (Police pressure? A drugged-out, financially-challenged kid who was only 15 or 16 years old, held in jail overnight without her parents or any lawyers present? Poor Nichol now suffering from memory loss or false memory syndrome? Nah, this is all in the imagination of the Milgaard Camp, which lacks an appropriate trust of authority.)

In all fairness, MacCallum also recommended that juvenile investigations be taped in the future. And he did say that a now deceased policeman from Calgary was aggressive in his polygraph of Nichol John, but MacCallum stopped short of calling this a form of misconduct.

There were so many ways in which the Milgaard case was mishandled, and I haven't even looked at the information for two years, but the top ones that come to my mind were the coercion of teenagers to say exactly what the police wanted them to say. Originally when they were interviewed, Ron Wilson and Nichol John said that Milgaard never did anything wrong. It was only upon repeat interrogation that they said otherwise, and Nichol said that David stabbed someone and stole her purse SOLELY when she was being held overnight without counsel in jail. Then she retracted that comment and never made it again.

Albert Cadrain, one of David's friends, testified against him and tipped the police off to blood on David's clothing. But Cadrain received a reward of $2000, which was a lot of money back in 1970, especially to a kid. And his mental health was always less than stellar (several bricks short of a driveway, actually, through no fault of his own). He was hospitalized several months after he'd made these comments about Dave; moreover, when he told the police that he saw blood, he also said that he saw the Virgin Mary but the latter was ignored and never treated as the hallucination that both it and the blood were.

Out of the 13 different recommendations that Edward MacCallum made, according to The Canadian Press, one of them was that "the federal government establish an independent review commission to examine claims of wrongful conviction," so that these appeals no longer have to go to the justice minister. But this recommendation has been made many times before and no one has followed through. Who has the authority to create such a commission? Let them do it!

So, the police and prosecutors involved in this case are officially off the hook. They didn't have tunnel vision, they didn't turn a blind eye to Larry Fisher's striking M.O., and they didn't make any catastrophic errors. Then how did a perfectly innocent kid spend the better part of his youth and middle years in a dark, dangerous hole? That's like saying that the operation was a success but the patient died -- this is a whitewash.

Justice MacCallum has proved the Milgaard point precisely, which is that the justice system is totally incapable of examining itself in an unbiased fashion.

Sigrid Macdonald
Former co-coordinator of the Milgaard support group in Ottawa


  • At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Sigrid

    I heard the news today, oh-boy.

    If nothing else the fact that The wife of the real criminal went to police and reported her story.But was Igorned is not right.

    However the Cbc news story started with, this same finding by the judge. Were the Sasktoon police had new info but did nothing.

    It Appears like the judges findings are informative and writen in a plan language most people can understand.

    After all the average canadian does not want to see this happen again.


  • At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    what do we expect when a member of the justice system examines the actions of other members of the justice system?

    the judge is obligated to see the best in a system of which he is part and of which he belongs.

    What happened when white juries tried the white men for murdering blacks? They overlooked the murder and blamed the victim.

    The real reason for keeping the wrongful convictions is because they keep people in line.

    If a murder happens - and a person is suspect - then that person is beholden to those who hold open the doors of the justice system.

    So murders go unsolved - the justice system gets rid of the unwashed and the unwanted and that prime suspect looses all power in life because at any time the innocent suspect can be investigated for a wrongful conviction.

    That is especially true if you stand in the way of large capital enterprize.

    It is how the justice system works - I know this because my son was wrongly accused and wrongly convicted by this method (they even borrowed one of the the Milgaard facts to quote in court and repeat in the papers - it outraged the public and shut me up) so I am now anonymous. My son is free - they unconvicted him (many thanks to David Milgaard and his mum and family and lawyers).

  • At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Samuel Preston said…

    September 26, 2008

    I would rather free 10 guilty men, then let one innocent man go to jail! This is the principle behind our legal system; it has failed.

    With the reprimand of the Milgaard family, the Judge has effectively victimized the family all over again. The Judge should be protecting the right of the family to challenge the legal system and admonishing the authorities for not being professional enough to except the family's challenge!!

    Samuel Preston

  • At 4:39 PM, Blogger Sigrid Macdonald said…

    Hello Dan, Samuel and Anonymous --

    Thanks so much for your feedback.

    Dan, it's true that Linda Fisher did go to the police and they ignored her. Unbelievable.

    Anon, I'm so sorry to hear about your son and relieved that he's not in prison now. I totally agree with what you said about white juries -- the same was true of the OJ jury, actually. Talk about a murderer walking free! What a travesty... and I am very grateful that you have benefited by the Milgaard case.

    Samuel, right on! Justice McCallum did not hold anybody responsible in Saskatchewan. All those years and the infinite number of mistakes that were made over and over again and yet nobody screwed up -- nobody committed professional misconduct? What a joke!

    And you're so right about how wrong it was for that Justice to point a finger at Joyce. Spare me. How did so many things go wrong in that investigation? That was the question that we expected the inquiry to address but instead it just saved its own ass.

    Here's a really good radio show by Cory Kolt in Saskatoon to listen to if anyone has time. It's the Murray Wood show and it was hosted that day by Cory Kolt. Here's the link:


  • At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    GaleHaroldThese names sound very familiar. However, hearing this story seems like a first for me. Where have I been? Look at all this your doing over here. Let me play catch up a bit. Smiling.... yes, and that gives you a break from responding to me then via regular email..

  • At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I read a Law book today.

    They wrote about the milgaard case
    and how his friends recanted, their story
    IS it true they paid his friends
    2000.00 in 1970
    Can that still be going on today.


  • At 2:54 PM, Blogger Sigrid Macdonald said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.


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