Canadian Supreme Court Reopens Manslaughter Case Based on New Medical Understandings…


The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered the Ontario Court of Appeal to re-examine the case of a man convicted 41 years ago of killing his common-law partner.

Three pathologists have taken a fresh look at the manslaughter conviction of John (Jack) Salmon, concluding Maxine Ditchfield, 28, did not die from a blow to the head during brutal beatings, as the jury heard, but by a stroke.

The three pathologists say it’s likely the stroke was caused by a series of falls at her Woodstock home and in the kitchen of a nearby farmhouse after a night of heavy drinking.

Toronto lawyer James Lockyer applied to the Supreme Court to direct the appeal court consider the new evidence and decide whether Salmon’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

The Court ruled in his client’s favour Thursday, giving no reasons.

Salmon testified, at his 1971 trial in Woodstock, that he never assaulted the mother of three, as alleged, but noticed in the days before her death she slept a great deal and kept stumbling and falling.

A jury found him guilty nonetheless, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal was dismissed in 1972. He was granted parole two years later.

Now a 72-year-old married grandfather living in Orillia, Salmon has always maintained his innocence and told the Star last year that he had loved Ditchfield. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

Lockyer called the case “a nice find.” Salmon originally approached the criminal lawyer in 2000 just for a pardon. “He said, ‘I didn’t do it, but they convicted me.’”

This prompted Lockyer to review his case. “I thought the pathology was really suspect.”

At trial, the prosecution relied on the opinion of Dr. Michael Dietritch, a now-deceased pathologist who gave the cause of death as “circulatory and respiratory failure secondary to brain damage caused by blunt trauma to the head.”

In addition, Ditchfield’s 8-year-old son Michael testified he twice saw Salmon hitting his mother, making her fall to the ground, something no one else reported. Lockyer argued his testimony is open to question.

In a document filed last July, the Crown agreed the new evidence, on its face, calls into question the validity of the medical evidence tendered at trial. The Crown joined Salmon in asking that the case be reviewed by the appeal court.

A date has not yet been set for the hearing.


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