Can you imagine spending over 20 years behind bars, serving time for a crime you didn’t commit? The mere thought of it is gut-wrenching. But unfortunately, wrongful convictions do occur.
That’s exactly what happened to David Milgaard, who was only 17 when he was convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 10 years. In total, Milgaard was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years. And the man who actually committed the crime wasn’t caught for nearly two decades.
Each year, thousands of cases are taken to court in Canada. Most cases heard in court are resolved at a provincial level. But others have wide-reaching effects, going on to reach the Supreme Court. These cases have long-lasting impacts on the Canadian System of Justice, and our society as a whole.
Some cases are so captivating, so controversial, that they capture nationwide attention. Today, we’re going to cover one that led to lasting changes in the Canadian Criminal Justice System: the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard.
20-year-old Gail Miller was murdered on January 31 in 1969. Police interrogated a list of over 100 suspects but were unable to find any legitimate leads on who the culprit might be.
At the time, David Milgaard (who was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba) was on a road trip with two friends. They stopped in Saskatoon on the same night that Miller was murdered.
Milgaard became a suspect when his two friends were coerced into false confessions. The young teenagers were anxious to leave police custody and fabricated a series of events so that police would let them go.
Another friend of Milgaard’s (Albert Cadrain) confessed to the police that he had seen blood on Milgaard’s clothing. But this, too, was fabricated; it was motivated because Cadrain was paid a $2,000 reward for “finding evidence”.
With these pieces of evidence and no other suspects, the court determined that Milgaard was responsible for the murder.
The police ignored a tip from the culprit’s ex-wife; it was dismissed on the grounds that it came in at 4 AM, and the woman had been drinking. But years later, police would discover that she had been correct.
Finally, a piece of DNA evidence confirmed that Milgaard was not involved in the crime. In 1997, the Saskatchewan government recognized that the conviction was wrongful. Larry Fisher, was convicted of murder in 1999, 30 years after the initial crime took place.
Milgaard’s Release from Prison
Milgaard was officially released in 1992, 23 years after his initial conviction. Eventually, Milgaard was given $10 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction, legal fees, and lost wages. But can you put a price on 23 years of your life?
Stories like these go to show how important it is to have an experienced criminal lawyer in court. One of the roles of a criminal lawyer is to prevent wrongful convictions. Interested in learning more about how a criminal lawyer can help? You can find more info here.