Witnesses at the trial said that, on a bitterly cold morning in late January, 1969, three teenagers drove into Saskatoon from Regina. David Milgaard, a 16-year-old high-school dropout and self-styled hippie, was on holiday. With him were his friends Nichol John and Ronald Wilson, also in their teens. They were looking for the home of a friend, Albert Cadrain. The same morning, Gail Miller, a 20-year-old nursing assistant, was raped and stabbed to death in the vicinity. Six months later, police charged Milgaard with the murder. In 1970, a Saskatoon jury found him guilty, and Chief Justice A. H. Bence sentenced him to life in prison. But, for the past 21 years, Milgaard, who is currently serving his sentence at Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg, has protested his innocence. Now, federal justice department officials are studying new evidence that, according to Milgaard’s lawyer, may set him free.
The new evidence emerged as the result of a continuing investigation by Milgaard’s mother,
Joyce, and Winnipeg lawyer David Asper. Asper said that in 1988 he already had enough evidence to ask federal officials for a new trial. Since then, Asper added, more new evidence has made the case for a new trial even stronger. For one thing, during the past month, Wilson and Cadrain, who testified at the original trial, both made signed statements to Paul Henderson, a private detective working for Joyce Milgaard, in which they say that they were under police pressure when they testified against her son. Last week, Cadrain told Henderson that, as a result of Saskatoon police presMilgaard:
sure during their interrogation -
21 years ago, he suffered an almost total mental collapse.
The John Howard Society of Manitoba, an organization dedicated to helping prisoners and to penal reform, is also supporting an investigation into the new evidence. Society officials set up a fund in May to encourage donations from the public to help cover some of the costs
involved. Explained Winnipeg lawyer and society president Jack King: “It’s beyond the normal case where someone says, ‘I didn’t do it, I’m innocent,’ but hasn’t produced any evidence at all.”
At Milgaard’s trial, both Wilson and Cadrain said that they saw blood on his clothes on the day of Miller’s murder. As well, Wilson testi-
fied that Milgaard was in possession of a paring knife during the trip to Saskatoon. Two other witnesses, Craig Melnyk and George Lapchuk, testified that Milgaard re-enacted the crime a few months later in a room at the Park Lane Motel in Saskatoon. They said that Milgaard used a pillow to demonstrate how he had stabbed Miller.
Asper, 31, made the first attempt to secure a new trial 18 months ago by asking the federal justice department to have an appeal court review the original trial, or order a new one. Asper, son of Winnipeg businessman and Global TV owner Israel (Izzy) Asper, said that evidence from the original trial showed that one witness had seen Milgaard in a different part of Saskatoon at the time of the killing. As well, Asper claimed that Melnyk’s and Lapchuk’s evidence at the original trial was false.
Asper also presented a statement made by Deborah Hall, a woman who said that she was in the motel room with Milgaard and his friends in May, 1969. Hall told Asper in a sworn affidavit in November, 1986, that some of them were watching a news item on television about the Miller murder when Melnyk turned to Milgaard and said, “You did it, didn’t you?” Hall, who said that she had taken what she considered to be a strong drug that night, added that Milgaard “was punching a pillow trying to fluff it up. I remember him saying, in response to Craig Melnyk, ‘Oh yeah, right,’ in a sarcastic or joking manner.”
New evidence continued to surface this year. On June 4, Wilson admitted in a statement to the private investigator that he had lied at the trial. He was on parole after being sentenced to she months for fraud, when police first told him that he was a suspect in the Miller case. Wilson, who is now a sales representative for a tire company in the B.C. Interior, said that intense questioning by police exhausted him. “I was 17 years old and very frightened because I felt the police were trying to pin the murder on me,” he said in his statement. “Finally, I began to implicate Milgaard in the murder, telling police the things they wanted to hear.” But Wilson also said in his statement, “When we [Milgaard and Wilson] were alone together in Calgary, Milgaard told me he had hit a girl or z got a girl in Saskatoon.”
2 In the meantime, Asper said I that Justice Minister Kim Camp| bell should now release his client s with a full pardon. Still, he said s that he would settle for a chance s to present the new evidence to ° an appeal court. Eugene Williams, a justice department lawyer handling Asper’s application, said that he could not speculate on when a decision would be made. For David Milgaard, who has already spent more than half his life in prison, the decision cannot come too soon.
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