Hikoalok’s defence lawyer hypothesizes how DNA could have ended up on victim

Cambridge Bay man accused of first-degree murder in 2018 killing of Elisabeth Salm in Ottawa

The Ottawa trial of Tyler Hikoalok (foreground) continued Thursday with testimony from forensic scientist Melinda Matte. Hikoalok, 22, faces a first-degree murder charge in the 2018 death of Elisabeth Salm. (Courtroom sketch by Lauren Foster-MacLeod)

By Madalyn Howitt

Content warning: this story includes graphic details.

In the wake of testimony that DNA found on the body of Elisabeth Salm links Tyler Hikoalok to her murder, Hikoalok’s defence lawyer raised a hypothetical question: could that DNA have been transferred from a different source?

Hikoalok, 22, was charged with first-degree murder after Salm, 59, was found badly beaten on May 24, 2018, in the Christian Science Reading Room on Laurier Avenue West. She died the next day. Forensics experts later found evidence she had been sexually assaulted.

Forensic scientist, Melinda Matte, began her testimony Wednesday by explaining how DNA found on the body of Salm linked Hikoalok to her murder. Two swabs taken from Salm’s external genitalia and labia showed evidence that semen was present. Further testing pulled up a DNA profile that matched Hikoalok’s. 

Matte, the Crown’s final witness, continued her testimony Thursday by reiterating a point: while forensic DNA testing can help investigators find DNA profiles, forensic testing cannot determine the mechanism for how DNA is deposited. 

It is possible that some DNA can be transferred from one object to another, Matte explained. She gave the example of a water bottle — if there is blood on a water bottle from one person, and a different person touches that water bottle, DNA from the blood can possibly be transferred to the hand of the second person. That means DNA can be transferred between two people who did not have direct physical contact with each other. 

Defence attorney Michael Smith then asked if it is possible for semen to be deposited by transference as well. He put forth a hypothetical situation: Is it possible that Hikoalok could have masturbated, ejaculated, and then a person who arrived later to treat Salm may have touched a surface with Hikoalok’s semen on it and then transferred that DNA to Salm’s body? 

Matte answered that it is possible for DNA from semen to be transferred from one object to another. 

The Crown closed its case Thursday at the end of Matte’s cross-examination.

The court will not sit on Friday in order to observe National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The jury will return to the courtroom on Oct. 4, when the defence is then expected to open its case. 

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