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--- "(for my eyes only")

Were they wrongfully convicted of murder?

Former radio hosts takes up the cause of three men currently behind bars
 

As a hard-hitting and often abrasive talk-radio host, Peter Warren advocated for the release of David Milgaard, Thomas Sophonow and Jim Driskell, each wrongfully imprisoned for murder.

And even though Warren, now 67, is no longer behind a microphone, he is still working to free those he believes shouldn't be behind bars.

Now a "freelance investigative journalist" living in Victoria, Warren is focusing his efforts on three cases, each one a man convicted of murdering his wife. Two of those cases have distinct ties to Vancouver Island.

Warren appeared last week at the University of Victoria delivering a lecture entitled "Were They Wrongfully Convicted of Murder?"

His presentation included appearances by family and others close to the three men who all remain incarcerated.

"These three cases, they beg for review,'' Warren said yesterday.

The former high-profile host of Action Line in Winnipeg and the ensuing Warren on the Weekend nationally syndicated show said he narrowed down a potential list of 20 cases to these three.

"I did cull this down to the three that I really think are wrongly convicted."

Those include Michael Tate, convicted of first-degree murder in the 2000 pickaxe death of his wife, Tammy Miller, in their Central Saanich home; and Kelvin Purdy, convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing his estranged wife, Denise Purdy, at a Nanaimo bus stop in 2003.

Tate is serving a 25-year sentence with no parole at Mountain Institution.

The B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously denied his appeal in 2002.

Warren said Tate had quit taking Zoloft, an antidepressant, "cold-turkey" just days before what the defence claimed in court was a botched murder-suicide attempt by the couple. Warren believes that factor wasn't properly taken into account.

John Tate, Michael's father, has recently self-published a book about what he claims was his son's wrongful conviction. He sent a copy of that book to Warren.

In an interview, he said he is now hopeful that Warren can shine a spotlight on the case. "That's what we're trying to do right now is expose it,'' Tate said. "He's got the clout. Nobody knows John Tate but many, many people know of Peter Warren."

Warren believes Purdy's case bears a similarity to that of Sophonow, who was wrongfully imprisoned for almost four years for the 1981 murder of Barbara Stoppel, a Winnipeg doughnut-shop waitress. In both cases, Warren said, there were discrepancies between eyewitnesses' testimony and physical characteristics of the convicted.

Purdy is serving 19 years without parole. His appeal was denied.

Warren said he faxed every MLA in B.C. with an invitation to his UVic lecture. Among those he contacted was Attorney General Wally Oppal, who could not attend. "I'm praying that an observer [for Oppal] was there,'' he said.

A spokesman said yesterday that Oppal was not in Victoria on the lecture date. The ministry had no comment on Warren's quest to have these cases reviewed.

Warren has long been interested in the wrongfully convicted. He interviewed Milgaard several times from prison on his Winnipeg radio show. He even arranged to be incarcerated undercover himself for a week at the same Stony Mountain Penitentiary.

"Nobody was taking any notice in the Milgaard case,'' Warren said. "He spent 23 years behind bars. I got peed off because the prison system and the parole board said to him after he'd served 13 years protesting his innocence: 'Look, just say you did it, say you're sorry, and we'll open the door tomorrow.' And he said: 'There's no goddamn way I'm going to say I'm sorry for something I didn't do.' As a result, he spent another 10 years up the river."

Warren's website includes testimonials from Sophonow and Driskell.

"I would like to thank Warren for checking the facts, and giving me airtime to start the ball rolling and proving my innocence," writes Sophonow.

"Thanks, Warren, for my first media interview and believing in me," writes Driskell.

Warren said he asks only for travel costs from the families of those he believes are wrongfully convicted. "I don't get any huge cash bonus. I just enjoy doing the work."

jrud@tc.canwest.com

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008