John H. Salmon

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John Henry Salmon, an inhabitant of Albemarle County, was found guilty in November 1869 of murdering his mother and only brother.[1] Prior to the start of a second trial, he was released due to a legal technicality. Salmon fled the county in response to being ostracized and threatened by the general population.

Biography

Early life

Salmon lived near Stony Point on the west side of the modern Southwest Mountains Rural Historic District. He resided on a small farm that he had inherited from his father alongside his mother and brother, the other joint tenants.

Alleged murder and trial

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Salmon's mother and brother were found murdered. According to contemporaries, although the evidence was entirely circumstantial, there was little doubt that Salmon himself had committed the foul deed in order to become the sole owner of the family farm. He was brought to trial in the County Court in July of 1870 and, after a protracted hearing that lasted throughout the majority of that month, was convicted and sentenced to be hung on November 4th of that year.[2]

Appeal and discharge

Immediately following Salmon's sentencing, his legal counsel appealed his case to the Circuit Count on some points excepted to in the trial, eventually managing to secure the awarding of a new trial that was scheduled for the following year.

In May of 1871, a venire was summoned from Lynchburg, a jury was empaneled, and the trial was about to begin when Salmon's legal counsel suddenly moved for his immediate discharge, stating that the number of the terms of Court prescribed by the statutes had passed since his indictment without a trial. The jury was subsequently dismissed, with an argument on the motion being held. It turned out that in the prevailing derangement of affairs, and due to several interferences of the General commanding at Richmond, the grounds alleged by Salmon's legal counsel were true. After taking the matter under advisement, the Court resolved to discharge him from its custody.

Quote from Judge Cochran’s opinion, discharging Salmon,

“In this connection, I think it due to Judge Shackleford, to say that the error he made in retaining the cause in his Court, was, under the uncertain condition of our laws at that particular period, an error alike entertained by the bar as well as the bench.”[3]

Due to the widespread belief of Salmon's guilt among the general population and their consequent indignation upon his release, the former prisoner at once fled the county, with reports indicating that he eventually made his way to Texas.[4]

References

  1. Web. A Murderer Discharged, Staunton Spectator, 25 July 1871, retrieved 18 Oct. 2023.
  2. Web. [1]
  3. Web. THE AMENDE HONORABLE, Letter from Albemarle – The Salmon Murder, Daily State Journal, 24 July 1871, retrieved 17 October 2023.
  4. Web. Albemarle County in Virginia, C.J. Carrier Company, 1901