David Milgaard lawyer Hersh Wolch dead at 77

Hersh Wolch
Hersh Wolch (left) and Kyle Unger (right) talk to media outside a Winnipeg courthouse Oct. 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

A lawyer who represented some of Canada’s most prominent wrongfully convicted, including David Milgaard, has died.

Hersh Wolch was 77.

The Calgary law office where he worked with his son Gavin confirmed Wolch’s death on Monday.

Wolch was born in Winnipeg and was a Crown prosecutor in Manitoba after receiving his law degree in 1965.

He rose to prominence in the 1990s for his work on Milgaard’s case.

Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for the 1969 rape and murder of Saskatoon nurse Gail Miller. He was released in 1992 after his mother, who fought tirelessly to clear her son’s name, managed to get the case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Watch below from October 2014: Milgaard was 17 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Saskatoon nursing student Gail Miller. Years later, DNA confirmed his innocence. Despite his successful fight for justice, there was still a tangible human cost. Jill Croteau reports.

Wolch, along with David Asper, represented Milgaard at the high court and argued that police focused on Milgaard — a drifter passing through Saskatoon with friends — early in their investigation to the exclusion of other suspects. The conviction was thrown out

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Milgaard was exonerated in July 1997 after DNA tests proved that semen found at the crime scene didn’t match his.

Larry Fisher, another longtime suspect, was convicted in December 1999 of first-degree murder in Miller’s death.

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. Wolch again served as counsel for the Milgaard side.

”It’s never been suggested that anybody was trying to frame an innocent person. It’s that they went into a tunnel and they went down that tunnel and they did not deviate from going down that tunnel,” he told the inquiry in his closing arguments.

”Tunnel vision, indifference and blind loyalties to the system are recipes for disaster.”

A 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.