June 14, 1999
A motherís fight for justice
A Motherís Story: The Fight to Free My Son David, by Joyce Milgaard with Peter Edwards (Doubleday Canada Ltd., 267 pages, $34.95, hardcover).
BY TOM MELISSIS
Catholic Register Special
I have to admit I didnít know much about the David Milgaard story until I had an audition for the CTV television movie Milgaard. But after just one reading of a few scenes of the script, I was hooked.
I wanted to know who savagely raped and murdered the young 19-year-old nursing aide Gail Miller, and how 16-year-old hippy-kid David Milgaard ended up spending 23 harrowing years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
A Motherís Story: The Fight to Free My Son David, co-written with Peter Edwards, is Joyce Milgaardís detailed account of the painstaking journey the entire Milgaard family endured from the moment two Saskatoon detectives arrived at their front door announcing Davidís arrest on May 12, 1969, to the day DNA exonerated him some 28 years later.
The story is tragic and it is bleak. But what makes it so compelling is how Joyce Milgaard meticulously unravels every little knot along the way ó and there are many in this dense, complicated web.
The entire focus of the book appears to be on Joyce Milgaard and her struggle, as the subtitle suggests, but she wastes no time in sharing the credit with many politicians at various levels and members of the media, such as Peter Carlyle Gordge, a Macleans magazine correspondent who along with his wife, Cathy, got the publicity campaign rolling. The Centurion Ministries, a U.S.-based investigative agency which specializes in freeing the wrongfully convicted, furnished her with an unassuming investigator in Paul Henderson, who was hugely instrumental in not only tracking previous witnesses and getting them to submit retractive statements, but was responsible for locating the victims of serial rapist Larry Fisher, as well as Fisherís ex-wife Linda. All statements given by these people were not only vital in Davidís subsequent release but will perhaps be of significance in the upcoming trial of Fisher for the rape and murder of Miller (a trial expected to begin later this year.)
In A Motherís Story, Fisher is unveiled as the prime suspect, much like the evil villain in a murder mystery. In fact prior to Fisher, a red herring in Colin Thatcher, the former Saskatchewan politician now serving a life sentence for murdering his wife, was considered momentarily. Thatcher was known to have dated Miller at one time and strangely enough, was sent away to college by his family the day after Millerís murder.
Fisher was literally an anonymous phone call to David Milgaardís appeal lawyer Hersh Welch. And it was during this time that, with the help of Welchís young cohort, David Asper, Joyce Milgaard was groomed into more than a ďgumshoe mom,Ē but a pretty media savvy crusader. She sang to then-justice minister Kim Campbell, she pleaded her case with Campbellís boss, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and she won over the media coast to coast which tugged at the entire nationsí heart strings.
That is probably the major reason I walked into the audition that morning and impressed the producers enough to hire me to play young appeal lawyer Asper in their movie. My heart was stirred. It was touched by the Milgaards and the Millers. And that is why, after the movieís completion some eight months ago, after spending time with Joyce, daughter Maureen, lawyers Welch and Asper, and a very brief yet poignant chance meeting with David Milgaard himself, I still want to know. This book has told me much, and yet Iíll still be following the outcome of Fisherís trial, the subsequent inquiry and perhaps wonder how David Milgaard and the rest of the family are doing.