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Still unclear if accused killer in 1975 case is fit to stand trial

In December, Rodney Nichols was repatriated to Canada from Florida to face charges related to the death of Jewell Parchman Langford. Concerns about dementia prompted a five-day assessment of whether Nichols is fit to stand trial, and court heard Tuesday that it was inconclusive. (South Florida Sun Sentinel - image credit)
In December, Rodney Nichols was repatriated to Canada from Florida to face charges related to the death of Jewell Parchman Langford. Concerns about dementia prompted a five-day assessment of whether Nichols is fit to stand trial, and court heard Tuesday that it was inconclusive. (South Florida Sun Sentinel - image credit)

More time is needed to assess whether the man accused in the 1975 killing of Jewell Parchman Langford is fit to stand trial, court heard Tuesday.

Rodney Nichols, 81, was extradited from the U.S. to Canada this past fall to face a charge of murder. During extradition proceedings, his American lawyers said he had "full onset dementia."

After he arrived at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, a nurse there also raised questions about his mental capacity.

Nichols's Canadian lawyer, Laura Metcalfe in Toronto, told Superior Court in December that she shared the same concern and requested a five-day assessment of her client's fitness to stand trial.

The order was made on Jan. 2, but Nichols wasn't admitted to the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby, which works with the elderly, among others, until Jan. 18.

Report inconclusive

A nine-page fitness report dated Feb. 9 was inconclusive, and recommended further assessment period of 30 or even 60 days, court heard Tuesday.

Metcalfe said that in view of the "resource issue" outlined in the Ontario Shores report, among other unusual circumstances, an extension of 60 days would be appropriate.

"The author has set out the circumstances surrounding Mr. Nichols, in particular, and what has made it difficult for them to get the assessment done within the time period allotted," Metcalfe said, without going into details.

However, the Criminal Code stipulates that the total time of an original assessment order and extension must not exceed 60 days.

Superior Court Justice Brian Holowka granted an extension to March 4, taking into account the delay in admitting Nichols to Ontario Shores for the assessment.

Nichols attended the virtual court proceeding Tuesday from a room at Ontario Shores. Dressed in a dark grey T-shirt, he appeared to be eating breakfast and said nothing.

A cold case for decades

In 1975, Nichols was a star player for the Westmount rugby club and had just moved into a house in Montreal with Langford, a woman from Tennessee he'd met in Florida.

A few days later, the 48-year-old woman stopped communicating with her family in the United States.

Her body was found in the Nation River along Highway 417, between Montreal and Ottawa, on May 3, 1975.

The gravestone of Jewell Parchman Langford at a cemetery in Jackson, Tenn.
The gravestone of Jewell Parchman Langford at a cemetery in Jackson, Tenn.

Nichols is accused of murdering Langford, a woman from Tennessee who disappeared in Montreal in 1975. The two had moved in together in April, and Langford's body was found in eastern Ontario in May. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

For decades, she was known only by the moniker "Nation River Lady" as authorities struggled to identify her.

Langford was only recently identified with the help of forensic genealogy.