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Jack Salmon, 71, is challenging his 1971 conviction for killing his wife.


Jack Salmon never really had a chance.

Tried in 1971 for slaying his wife, Mr. Salmon was up against autopsy photographs that depicted a badly bruised victim and an expert witness who clearly felt Mr. Salmon was the killer.

Forty years later, however, science has swung in his favour. Mr. Salmon, 71, a retired welder who lives in Coldwater, Ont., reached a crucial stage in his fight to clear his name on Monday when he filed an application to the federal Department of Justice asking for the case to be reopened to consider fresh evidence or referred to the Ontario Court of Appeal for review.

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"I carry the shame of a crime I did not commit with me every day," Mr. Salmon said in an affidavit. "I did not assault Maxine and I did not cause her death."

His application includes statements from three prominent medical experts who disagree strongly with damning pathology evidence that helped convict Mr. Salmon of manslaughter.

The experts say that, rather than indicating a brutal beating, extensive bruising to Ms. Ditchfield's body suggests that she suffered a series of falls that gradually led to fatal brain damage.

"It can never be too late to challenge a miscarriage of justice like Jack Salmon's case," said James Lockyer, a lawyer for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. "There are a lot of cases like this, which depend on the science of the past. It is a shame that it is so difficult and time-consuming to do something about them."

Ms. Ditchfield, a 28-year-old poodle clipper, died on Sept. 22, 1970, three days after attending an all-night drinking party with Mr. Salmon.

The court heard at Mr. Salmon's trial that, over the course of the night, the couple had argued intermittently and then made up. The next morning, Ms. Ditchfield became increasingly dehydrated, woozy and unable to eat. She lay on her bed in a semi-comatose state before being transported to hospital a few hours before she died.

The regional pathologist for Oxford County, Michael Dietrich, noted more than 30 bruises on her body. He found that her brain was extremely swollen and a portion of it had effectively died, causing her to lose use of one side of her body, leading to collapses and further concussive effects.

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Since Mr. Salmon had been equally drunk and was the only person Ms. Ditchfield had been with in the hours after the drinking binge ended, he was quickly arrested.

Mr. Salmon told police that his wife had staggered from the bathroom several times, collapsing and hitting her head on the basin or the bathtub at least once.

At his trial, Dr. Dietrich - who has since died - testified that, "it takes considerable force" or "a terrific blow" to create brain injuries of the type the victim suffered. Dr. Dietrich said it was doubtful that the injuries could have been caused by falling in the bathroom.

The Crown also provided evidence from one of the couple's three children, an eight-year-old boy, who said that he saw Mr. Salmon hit his mother the previous night. (In the application, Mr. Lockyer argues that the child's evidence was unreliable.)

Before sending the jury off to deliberate, the trial judge expressed his personal skepticism about the defence theory. Several hours later, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Mr. Salmon was sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

The new experts - two forensic pathologists and a forensic neuro-pathologist - state that Ms. Ditchfield was not homicide victim.

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One of the pathologists, Michael Shkrum, concluded in a report that numerous bruises to Ms. Ditchfield's face were likely caused by attempt to ventilate her at the hospital.

"The contusions to the brain are classic indicators of a fall, not a blow," added another expert, Peter Markesteyn. He said that clotted blood in a cerebral artery indicated that Ms. Ditchfield died from the effects of a stroke.

The third expert, neuro-pathologist David Ramsay, said that people who are inebriated are more prone to fall, and to fall heavily. "As well, an inebriated person who is injured bleeds more copiously and freely so that they may experience extensive bruising after a seemingly minor or innocuous injury," he said.

The AIDWYC application says that Dr. Dietrich's "dogmatic" statements were typical of the sort of expert testimony that has led to numerous wrongful convictions.

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