CANADA

Truth and consequences

PAUL KAIHLA March 23 1992
CANADA

Truth and consequences

PAUL KAIHLA March 23 1992

Who killed Gail Miller?

A rapist denies guilt at the Milgaard review

The soft-spoken rapist with saltand-pepper hair sat calmly in the witness box as he recounted a lifetime of terror and brutality. At 42, Larry Fisher says that he is only now beginning to come to terms with the traumatic abuses that led him to commit a series of violent sexual attacks. As a child, he told the Supreme Court of Canada last week, he was sexually and physically molested on numerous occasions by three older women—including his mother and an aunt. Since then, he said, he has harbored a fierce resentment towards women, experiencing a flash of power only when he traps and rapes them.

During five hours of testimony over two days, Fisher freely discussed the chilling details of seven sexual assaults for which he has already spent most of the past 21 years in prison. But Miller also strongly denied any involvement in a rape and murder case that closely resembled some of his other crimes and was committed within a few hundred metres of two of his assaults.

That case was the 1969 Saskatoon slaying of nursing assistant Gail Miller, for which another man—David Edgar Milgaard—is serving a life sentence.

Milgaard, 39, has always insisted that he is innocent of Miller’s murder.

His 62-year-old mother, Joyce, who led the campaign to have the Supreme Court review Milgaard’s conviction, is among a growing number of people who have publicly suggested that Fisher is a more likely suspect—a possibility that was also raised in a 1990 television documentary about the case. And as the governmentordered review into whether Milgaard was properly convicted heard its final witness last week, the central issue clearly shifted from Milgaard’s trial to the guilt or innocence of Fisher.

In fact, the court heard that there were several striking similarities between the circumstances of Miller’s death and the assaults to which Fisher has confessed. Milgaard and Fisher both have the same blood type as the murderer, according to a report written by Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and submitted as evidence. Boyd also said that, of the two men, only Fisher is right-handed, and he maintained that the stab wounds and slash marks on Miller’s neck were most likely inflicted by a right-handed person. As well, Boyd

noted that several of Fisher’s victims wore hospital-type uniforms. And while Fisher denied that he had selected his victims on that basis, he acknowledged in court that as a child he had been frustrated by nurses who ignored his stories of abuse.

Milgaard’s 1970 conviction was based largely on the testimony from two of his teenage companions and a third friend, Albert Cadrain, whose parents’ home they visited in Saskatoon on the day of Miller’s murder. In a strange twist, the court heard last week that at the time, Fisher, then 19, and his young wife and baby were renting a basement apartment in that house, only a few blocks from the murder scene. Milgaard’s friends at first told police

that he did not commit the murder, but each later testified against him. The three friends told the Supreme Court earlier this year that they changed their stories 23 years ago only after gruelling questioning by police.

Under questioning by Milgaard’s lawyer, Hersh Wolch of Winnipeg, Fisher acknowledged that he usually selected his victims on the street or on a bus, and that he dragged them into alleys before raping them. He also told the court that he had threatened many of his victims with a knife—a paring knife was used to murder Miller—and that he had slit the throat of a 56-year-old woman in North Battleford, Sask., while on parole in 1980. He is now serving a 10year sentence for that crime in Mountain Institution, a medium-security prison in Agassiz, B.C. Fisher also acknowledged that he usually forced his victims to undress and lie down on their coats before sexually assaulting them, and that he generally pulled a sweater or a blouse over their faces. Wolch suggested to Fisher that he had covered the faces of his victims “because if a victim can identify you, you may be forced to seriously harm her, isn’t that right?”—to which Fisher replied, “Yes, sir.”

Earlier in the hearing, the five justices reviewing Milgaard’s conviction heard evidence that the 20-year-old Miller’s body had been found partially unclothed, lying facedown in an alley near the Cadrains’ home. Still, when Wolch suggested to Fisher that all of the clues pointed to him, and that he had killed Miller because she may have seen his face, Fisher’s response was categorical. “You can make all the accusations you want, Mr. Wolch,” the rapist declared. “I am telling you I did not commit that crime.”

At that point in the proceedings, Chief Justice Antonio Lamer intervened in the questioning. He gently assured Fisher that his testimony could not be used against him if he were to be charged with Miller’s murder. Then, in a sympathetic tone, the chief justice added: “You were a very sick person. It’s not like you were committing holdups or murdering people for Murder Inc. [The rapes] had something to do with your illness. I think we all understand that.” There was a tense silence in the courtroom as Lamer asked again if Fisher had been involved in any way in the assault on Miller. But Fisher, who is scheduled to be released from prison no later than May, 1994, stated flatly: “I had nothing to do with the Gail Miller murder, sir, and I am here to prove my innocence in that department.” For Lamer and the four other Supreme Court justices, that has become the critical issue to be decided after the review resumes on April 6.

NANCY WOOD

in Ottawa