DNA clears man of murder 28 years on

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DNA testing has proved the innocence of a Canadian man who spent almost 23 years in jail, after being wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a female nursing assistant in 1969.

The test results, announced yesterday, were carried out by British forensic scientists. It is the oldest DNA evidence used to clear a crime, and may even be used in a new conviction: the samples have been found to match those of another man with a record of sexual offences.

The evidence came from a notorious miscarriage of justice in the province of Saskatchewan, where the body of Gail Miller was found dead in a snowbank in Saskatoon on 31 January 1969.

A year later, David Milgaard, then 17, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. He always protested his innocence, attempted suicide three times while in jail, escaped twice, and was never given parole because he refused to say he was guilty. He was released in 1992.

On Friday, the Saskatchewan minister of Justice, John Nilson, said "There is no doubt that this wrongful conviction will require compensation. We owe him and his family the most heartfelt apology."

Samples of semen found on Gail Miller's clothing and in snow near her body had been refrigerated to preserve them.

Last week, the items for the new tests were brought to the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Wetherby, West Yorkshire. The tests were completed last Friday and the news immediately relayed to Mr Milgaard's lawyers.

Dr Dave Werrett, FSS director of DNA services, said: "We were able to detect semen, and take enough of it to get a DNA sample, which we then subjected to the test systems routinely used in the UK by the FSS."

A FSS spokesman said that in the course of the investigation another man came to light who was in prison for similar offences. He was found to have the same DNA "fingerprint" obtained from the samples. The man, who cannot be named, has just been released from prison.