John Salmon's manslaughter conviction overturned

A man who fought for 45 years to clear his name of a manslaughter conviction in the death of his common-law wife was exonerated by an Ontario court today.

New evidence indicates 1970 death of common-law wife Maxine Ditchfield caused by stroke

John Salmon exonerated

8 years ago
Duration 3:03
A man who fought for 45 years to clear his name of a manslaughter conviction was exonerated by an Ontario court on Monday

A man who fought for 45 years to clear his name of a manslaughter conviction was exonerated by an Ontario court today after experts said his common-law wife's death was linked to her having suffered a stroke.

On Monday morning, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned John Frederick Salmon's conviction in the 1970 death of Maxine Ditchfield.

Salmon had little to say outside the courthouse, but told reporters he was "ecstatic" with his victory. 

"I'm happy and pleased I finally got this closure," he said, flanked by his wife and son. 

Mr. Salmon has paid a terrible price.- James Lockyer, lawyer

Salmon, 75, served three years in prison. At the time, a pathologist testified Ditchfield died from brain swelling caused by a severe beating. The 30-year-old woman's body had dozens of bruises, many on her head, when she was taken from the Woodstock, Ont., home she shared with Salmon on Sept. 21, 1970. She died the next day in hospital. 

A jury found Salmon had beaten her in a drunken rage.

But now, four forensic pathologists say her brain swelling was caused by a fall and a stroke after a night of drinking. The bruises are now believed to have been caused by repeated falls following the stroke. 

"So many of these cases of wrongful conviction result from bad pathology at the outset — where a natural cause of death is turned into a homicide," said lawyer James Lockyer, who, together with Marie Henein, represented Salmon in court. 

Lockyer blamed the conviction on poor work by the original pathologist, who has since died, and what he described as a "think dirty" presumption of guilt among officials of that era. 

"The science was there for him to draw the correct conclusions and he didn't. He got it wrong," Lockyer said. 

The Crown also called for an acquittal.

'Pretty bad shape'

John Salmon, centre, told reporters he was 'ecstatic' with the decision that overturned his 1971 conviction for manslaughter. Salmon was joined by his wife Margaret and son Randy. (CBC)
Salmon has always maintained his innocence. He told the court he had found her in bed on the morning of Sept. 20, a Sunday. She was disoriented, vomiting and bruised — "in pretty bad shape," he said — but refused to see a doctor.

Salmon said he thought she might have fallen during the night. 

He testified she fell a number of times — out of bed and, sometimes, onto the bathroom floor — that day, according to court documents. A doctor was called on Monday.  Court documents for his case are posted below. (On mobile? Click here to read the documents.)

Salmon was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was paroled in 1974 and has continued his legal battle since. After seeking assistance from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, he applied to the Supreme Court of Canada to have the fresh evidence considered. The case was sent back to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Lockyer said earlier his client had "paid a terrible price. On the same day, he lost the woman he loved and was wrongly charged with her murder." 

Lockyer added the case could set the stage for a lawsuit.

Salmon told reporters he did not keep track of the money he spent on his case over the years, but estimates it was about $100,000. 

Suing for damages "never passed my mind" he said. 

With files from Jasmin Seputis