THUNDER BAY – A series of violent home invasion sexual assaults that happened three decades ago has resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for the now nearly 70-year-old man guilty of the attacks.
Donald Milani, 69, was sentenced Friday at the Thunder Bay Courthouse after previously being convicted of 18 charges relating to the four separate incidents between 1985 and 1987 in rural areas surrounding Thunder Bay.
Milani, who was between 37 and 39 at the time of the attacks, was originally arrested in December 1987 but nearly two years later a preliminary hearing judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring the charges in the four cases to trial.
He was re-arrested in 2010 after advancements in DNA testing technology linked him to evidence seized from the crime scenes.
A trial was held late last year where a jury found him guilty of multiple counts of break and enter to commit sexual assault, sexual assault, intent to commit an indictable offence while masked and unlawful confinement.
While reading her reasons for sentence, Superior Court Justice Helen Pierce noted Milani maintained his innocence during sentencing submissions last week and has indicated an intent to appeal. Milani had also said he was sorry for what happened to the women and it must have been terrible for them, while also claiming he had no recollection of the mid 1980s as a result of a head injury sustained within the past decade.
Though defence lawyer Ronald Poirier had been seeking a sentence of between five and eight years and urged Pierce to give consideration to Milani’s age, the judge noted many factors of the offences necessitated a severe sentence.
“Sexual assault is inherently violent,” Pierce said, noting two of the attacks involved Milani using a weapon to dominate the victims.
”He took control of their bodies for his own gratification, regardless of their protests. He humiliated them. He deprived them of their dignity, their autonomy and engendered long-lasting fear. He violated their sexual integrity with profound emotional consequences. He robbed them permanently of their sense of security.”
She also described the attacks as being planned and premeditated and not spontaneous.
“Like a predator, he attacked when they were vulnerable,” Pierce said.
Milani appeared to wipe his eyes at various points during the 90-minute reading of the reasons for sentence and briefly nodded at family members while being escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
The judge commended the “meticulous” preservation of evidence and “exemplary” police work to allow the case to continue 30 years later.
On April 20, 1985 a masked man smashed through a broken window into the home of a 58-year-old woman living alone, armed with a knife and demanded sexual activity.
The victim called her son, who found her in distress and called police. Investigators found and documented shoe impressions from footprints outside the home.
Then on Sept. 9, 1986 a 26-year-old woman who was home alone because her husband was at work heard running water in her bathroom and woke up to a masked man carrying a flashlight. The man, who had cut her telephone line, repeatedly sexually assaulted her. He bound her feet before leaving, which he told her was to give him time to escape.
The man referred to the victim using a nickname of hers at a coffee shop where she worked. Milani was a customer at that coffee shop.
Less than a year later on July 11, 1987 the same woman woke up to a dog barking. Again, there was a masked man with a flashlight in the house. She asked why he was back, to which he responded “because you’re nice.” After sexually assaulting her, the man left but told her he would not bind her feet like the last time.
A victim impact statement to the court described the ongoing effects of the assaults.
"Fear is crippling. It is irrational," the statement reads. "Afraid to leave the house, afraid to come home once I did, afraid to get out of my car, afraid to go into the house. Never, ever leaving at night or coming home in the dark if I were alone. And always doing a walk through when I got home. Double checking all windows and doors. Sometimes sitting in the living room, for hours, staring out the window and everything going by keeping watch. And yet I knew for a fact that nothing I could do would stop someone from doing this to me again."
The final incident happened on Dec. 3, 1987 when two women who worked at a roadside restaurant went to a cabin on the property for the night. A masked intruder jumped out from behind a refrigerator and was armed with a gun. He bound the women, one 58 and the other 38, and sent them into separate rooms. They were both sexually assaulted.
One of the women tried to flee but was recaptured, sent back into the bedroom and choked. The man was in the cabin for at least an hour before leaving.
Milani had been a customer at the restaurant earlier that evening.
Only two of the four victims are still surviving. The first died in 2006 and the other passed away before the case went to trial.
In addition to the prison sentence, Milani is also subject to a lifetime weapons prohibition, a DNA order, must abstain from communicating with the two surviving victims and must comply with the sex offender registry.