David Milgaard is photographed after a press conference held by Innocence Canada in Toronto on October 9, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Justice advocate David Milgaard, imprisoned on wrongful conviction, dead at 69

David Milgaard, the victim of one of Canada’s most notorious miscarriages of justice, has died after a short illness. He was 69.

James Lockyer, a Toronto-based lawyer who worked closely on the case and helped found the organization Innocence Canada, confirmed the death after speaking with Milgaard’s sister on Sunday.

His loss is “devastating for the family,” Lockyer told The Canadian Press.

Milgaard was only 16 when he was charged in the murder of Saskatoon nursing aide Gail Miller, who was raped, stabbed and left to die in the snow in the early morning of Jan. 31, 1969.

Milgaard would spend 23 years in prison on a wrongful conviction until his release in 1992.

In his later years, he helped to raise awareness about wrongful convictions and demanded action on the way Canadian courts review convictions.

“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,” Milgaard said in 2015.

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

Milgaard and two friends had been passing through Saskatoon on a road trip when Miller was killed.

A year later, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

One of the youngest inmates, the 17-year-old was raped and tried to commit suicide. He was also shot by police during an attempted prison break.

“It was a nightmare,” Milgaard said in 2014. “People do not have much love and care inside those walls.”

Milgaard was released from prison in 1992 after his mother, who fought tirelessly to clear her son’s name, pushed to get the case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. The high court threw out Milgaard’s conviction and he was finally exonerated in July 1997 after DNA tests proved that semen found at the crime scene didn’t match his.

A man named Larry Fisher was convicted in December 1999 of first-degree murder in Miller’s death and sentenced to life in prison.

The Saskatchewan government issued Milgaard a formal apology and awarded him a $10-million compensation package.

The province also spent $11.2 million on a public inquiry into Milgaard’s wrongful conviction.

The final report was released in 2008 with 13 recommendations to reform prosecution and policing in Canada. Among them was a suggestion that the federal government establish an independent review commission to examine claims of wrongful conviction.