10/07/2015 22:38 EDT | Updated 10/07/2016 01:12 EDT

David Milgaard says presumption of innocence for accused has vanished

SASKATOON — A man who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit says he is still troubled to see how the public reacts to news stories about crime.

David Milgaard says the first inclination of most people is to assume a person who has been accused of a crime is guilty.

He says the presumption of innocence that is supposed to be assured by the legal system "just completely disappears."

David Milgaard was in Saskatoon on Wednesday to demand action on the way Canadian courts review convictions.

The Association for the Wrongfully Convicted has been calling for an independent federal commission to review possible miscarriages of justice, which is a recommendation that has been made in five different provincial inquiries.

Milgaard was wrongfully convicted in Saskatoon in 1970 for the rape and murder of nurse's aide Gail Miller, a crime that had actually been committed by serial rapist Larry Fisher.

He was joined Wednesday by Tammy Marquardt, who was wrongfully convicted in 1993 of murdering her infant son, Kenneth.

Her conviction came as a result of evidence from Charles Smith, a forensic pathologist who was later found to have botched work on several autopsies, including Kenneth's. Marquardt spent 14 years in prison before finally being released.

Both were in Saskatoon to deliver a talk to University of Saskatchewan law students, in the hopes that sharing their experiences would help future lawyers to avoid repeats of their stories.

Milgaard said he comes back to Saskatoon to speak out of a sense of responsibility for other wrongfully convicted people still languishing in prison.

"We should always remember that those people are there and they exist on hope," he said. "And if somebody doesn't have something to say about it, who's going to say something about it?"

Marquardt said she has a simple message for people about her experience.

"Never give up hope. Always fight for the truth. Never back down from the truth no matter what other people say. No matter how hard people are trying to push you down or judge you."

Milgaard and Marquardt are backing the call for an independent board to take conviction reviews out of the hands of the courts.

"I think it's important for everybody, not just lawyers, but for the public itself to be aware that wrongful convictions are taking place and that these people are sitting right now, behind bars and they're trying to get out," said Milgaard.

"The policies that are keeping them there need to be changed. The wrongful conviction review process is failing all of us miserably."



CKOM, The Canadian Press