On the blistering cold night of January 31st 1969, young and reckless sixteen year old David Milgaard had no idea what his fate would behold once he set off on his trip across Canada with his two friends Nichol John, and Ron Wilson.
While the three teens broke their journey in Saskatoon, a twenty-year-old nursing student, Gail Miller, was found dead in a snowbank nearby to where they were staying. At the time David and his friends were at their friend Albert Cadrains home, whose family was renting out their basement space to Larry Fisher. Shortly after, Milgaard and the others left to continue their route to Vancouver.
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Shortly after, British Columbia police arrested David Milgaard in the spring of 1969 after he was suspected to be responsible for death of the young woman early in the year. He was immediately escorted back to Saskatoon, where he was charged unjustly with murder and rape of Gail Miller. The tragic outcome of his wrongful conviction must make one wonder how such things can occur in such a well structured justice system. One of the many aspects as to why he was convicted of this act was the overly intense integration that his friends were put under in order to provide the police with information to believe it was David. The two youths Ron and Nichol, were believed to be pressured by fear and intimidation of the officers during their extreme and extensive questioning sessions.
David would most likely have not been charged and tried for the crime of murder if their stories hadn’t both been warped by their fright. During the interview sessions, Ron Wilson and Nichol John both changed their stories from the truth, in which David was present with them the morning of Gail’s murder, to an incriminating distortion that led their friends conviction. Many years after, Ron later confessed how he and Nichol ended up falsely incriminating their friend due to the stress they were forced to endure during the integration. Another reason that the justice system had failed on David was for the lack of expansion on the possibilities of other suspects that could also be responsible, also the absence of consideration towards inquiries from the public.
Police and other officials failed to acquire further investigation on Larry Fisher, as his wife Linda reported to the authorities shortly after the murder occurred that her husband was a reasonable suspect. She claimed that he was absent from their home that morning and was acting quite suspicious and uneasy when the reports showed up about Gail’s body discovery on the television. Although her report was said to have been received, and referred to investigators, and possibly evaluated, it went nowhere as it should have. One can only imagine what David’s mother Joyce must have went through to prove her son’s innocence. Not to mention David who stayed by her side through it all, staying strong and hopeful for a positive outcome eventually.
At times it grew very hard for them both, but as any caring mother who knew her son was not what he had been framed to be, she fought to do anything in her power to collect evidence that this was a wrongful conviction. On Joyce’s quest for Justice, she met many individuals who truly impacted her discovery of ways to start her battle for David. During the time of David’s incarceration, his mother engaged in media activism in order to draw others attention towards her certainty of her son’s innocence through the new discoveries she had conducted. She kept up with her duties to peruse a new trail, and kept the nation and many journalists up to date on the fresh evidence that she has recovered and insisted on it being considered. She showed officials and authorities that she was not willing to give up by even going to the extent of confronting Federal Justice Minister Kim Campbell as she brushed her off.
In December 1988, Joyce Milgaard applied for a federal review of the case, a provision permitting the minister of Justice, after considering the newly discovered evidence, an appeal was sent in order to review the conviction or to hold a new trial. Sadly though, in February 1991, Justice Minister Kim Campbell dismissed the application. Joyce was not ready to end this fight for David’s release, therefore over the coarse of the next six months she worked with many supporters that stuck by her side to expand her discoveries and further investigation of who really did commit the murder of Gail Miller.
Finally a second application was submitted which contained the attention towards the potentially guilty Larry Fisher, a known sex offender. The application was accepted by Kim Campbell. At a rate of unusual development, the Canadian government referred the Milgaard application straight to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Canada. The evidence represented included a recantation by witness Ron Wilson, he quoted that he had been coming down from high from the drugs he did previous to when he was questioned.
Also, confession made by Larry Fisher that stated he was guilty of committing six sexual harassment and assault charges within Saskatoon where Gail Miller was killed, raising potential possibility that she was just another one of the female victims he had attacked. After everything that was overseen in the time of David’s conviction, it was finally brought to light and served Justice when on July 18th 1997 Milgaard receives an apology from the government of Saskatchewan for the grief and mistake they had made convicting him and he is released. During the quarter of a century that David suffered in penitentiary, he experienced unimaginable grief, and wounds that he believes cannot ever heal.
David had suffered physical and sexual assault, and experienced a nearly fatal gunshot wound during his escape, many of these events drew him to attempt suicide. David has said that the psychological scars will remain within him till death. David quoted previously after his release that he still remains a prisoner to his own memories of depression and anxiety. Coping with being free after many years of imprisonment is understandably hard for anyone to endure, its an experience that is bound to leave you caged in your fear, forever. I am sure it is safe to state the experiences that David endured can’t be healed with any compensation of wealth, it will stay within his heart forever. I am hopeful that David is able to find some measure of the peace and relief in the world of which he deeply deserves. The possibility of an individual being wrongfully arrested, punished or convicted has always been a highly feared risk within our Canadian justice system. When such unjust events do occur, the belief of fairness and justice are smeared and disobeyed as if they are not honored at all.
In these rare cases, citizens are left to question the causes and effects of such consequences which are not deserved by those who are innocent. After serving 23 years in prison wrongfully, David Milgaard remains overall imprisoned by the grief he had experienced when he was framed for something he did not commit. The death of Gail Miller was a tragedy within itself, the even more horrific fact was the injustice she was served for not suspecting the right person responsible for her death, and further continuing with young innocent David being convicted and all he had to endure due to the failure of justice delivered to him and his family. This tradegy will live on in Canadian History and can be set as an example of the improvements made in the system since the time of his conviction.