Dennis Oland’s 2nd murder trial: What was new this time around

by - 9 min read

Dennis Oland’s 2nd murder trial: What was new this time around

by - 9 min read


The Crown and Dennis Oland’s defence lawyers have begun crafting their written summations and closing arguments for his second-degree murder retrial in the 2011 death of his father, multimillionaire Richard Oland.

Lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot has described it as a “monumental task.”

The retrial in Saint John lasted 44 days spanning four months, heard from 61 witnesses and featured 309 exhibits.

Although the facts of the circumstantial case remain largely unchanged from Oland’s first trial in 2015, which ended with a jury finding him guilty, the evidence is extensive and complex.

Even Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Terrence Morrison, who is presiding over the retrial without a jury, professed “a fair amount of confusion” about a possible bloody footprint found at the crime scene that was disregarded for three years.

The head of the Saint John Police Force’s forensic identification section and an RCMP bloodstain pattern analyst testified for the Crown about the possible footwear impression in blood found at the crime scene, while the defence called its own RCMP footwear impression analyst. (Court exhibit)

Morrison told the lawyers he’s “still not clear” exactly when and how the possible partial footwear impression was discovered in the victim’s blood-spattered office and asked them to address the matter in their post-trial briefs.

“There’s no question I’m going to have some inquiries to make with counsel,” he said.

A jury found Oland guilty in December 2015 and he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years, but the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in October 2016, citing an error in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury.

Some of the new evidence introduced at the second trial:

  • Mysterious sticky notes were found in a wooded area on the city’s west side more than a month after the killing that had the victim’s nickname, Dick, written on them, as well as the names of other members of the prominent family who founded Moosehead Breweries, and “policemen” Mike, Stephen, and Mark. Other scribblings on the four weathered notes turned in by a citizen were: “alcoholic,” “Transfer $429,” and “Jon insured.”

More than seven years after Richard Oland was killed, a Saint John courtroom heard for the first time about some sticky notes that were turned into police as part of the investigation. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

  • It’s possible the victim consumed a small amount of alcohol about an hour before his death, based on the low level found in his urine, according to the defence’s forensic toxicologist. The Crown’s expert testified the trace amount was consistent with consumption “several hours” before death. There’s no evidence the victim drank at all that day.

  • The defence created an enactment video to illustrate how the “killer or killers” could have escaped using the back door. The defence contends the door, in the foyer outside the victim’s second-floor office at 52 Canterbury St., would have been the preferred route because it is the most covert, exiting to an alleyway almost at ground level. The door was never tested for fingerprints or DNA because it had been opened by someone before the forensics officer got to it and was therefore contaminated.

Dennis Oland’s defence lawyers submitted this enactment video of the possible back door escape route of the “killer or killers” at the retrial on Friday. The video, created in 2014, three years after Richard Oland was killed, was never shown the jury at the accused’s first trial in 2015. 1:00

A new witness at the retrial, Saint John Harbour MLA Gerry Lowetestified he saw a man exit the front door of the victim’s office building, possibly on July 6, 2011, the night of the killing. Lowe couldn’t remember if he saw the man July 6 or July 5 but did tell police about seeing a photo shoot while across the street at Thandi restaurant.

The Crown and defence entered an agreed statement that a photographer was at Thandi’s on July 6, starting at 7:46 p.m. The court saw security video of Lowe at Thandi’s on July 6 between 7:40 p.m. and 8:35 p.m., but Saint John police never confirmed if he was also there the previous day.

Timeline crucial

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)

The timeline in the case is crucial. Oland is the last known person to have seen his father alive when he visited him at his office on July 6, between around 5:35 p.m. and 6:36 p.m. The defence has time-stamped security video of Oland shopping with his wife at 7:38 p.m. in Rothesay, about a 15- or 20-minute drive away.

His father’s body was found in the office the next morning, face down in a pool of blood. The 69-year-old had suffered 45 sharp- and blunt-force wounds to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.

‘Thumping noises’

Two men who heard thumping noises coming from the victim’s office on the night he was killed gave different time estimates. Anthony Shaw believes he heard the noises around 7:30 p.m., which supports the defence, while John Ainsworth testified it was sometime between 6 p.m. and 8:11 p.m., which supports the Crown’s case.

But the defence entered into evidence a sworn videotaped statement Ainsworth gave to a private investigator hired by the Oland family in October 2011, when he said the noises were between 7:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.

Anthony Shaw and John Ainsworth, who were working at Printing Plus on the evening of July 6, 2011, believe they heard Richard Oland being killed in his office upstairs. (CBC)

During an intense cross-examination, lead defence lawyer Alan Gold accused Ainsworth of altering his account to fit when the accused was visiting his father to “get him convicted.”

“How dare you!” Ainsworth fired back.

A new witness the Crown planned to call but then decided against was the ex-husband of Oland’s wife Lisa Andrik-Oland. No reasons were given, but family court documents reveal Ronald Ferguson is seeking 16 months of retroactive child support from Andrik-Oland.

Instead of recalling Diana Sedlacek, the woman with whom Richard Oland was having an affair, the parties agreed to play her videotaped testimony from the first trial. The same was done with seven other witnesses.

Diana Sedlacek had an eight-year affair with Richard Oland and on the day he was killed they were planning a trip together to Portland, Maine, the court heard. (CBC)

The court did not hear from Sedlacek’s estranged husband. The defence objected to Jiri Sedlacek testifying again. At the first trial, the defence had suggested police didn’t thoroughly investigate him as a possible alternative suspect.

The Crown did call Sgt. Greg Oram, whom the defence had accused the Crown of deliberately “hiding” from them during the first trial.

Oram, who entered the bloody crime scene with former Deputy Chief Glen McCloskey, testified their movements were more extensive than previously revealed and alleged McCloskey actually half-sat on a piece of furniture.

McCloskey, now retired, denies he sat on anything and maintains he did not try to influence another officer’s testimony about his presence there.

Sgt. Greg Oram marked his various routes of travel on this office diagram and wrote ‘GM’ to indicate Deputy Chief Glen McCloskey’s alleged locations. (Court exhibit)

One of the most dramatic moments in the retrial was when the head of forensics, Sgt. Mark Smith, admitted he kept silent about finding Oram and McCloskey in the scene. Smith testified it was never his intention to mislead the court.

“I admit to making mistakes at the crime scene, but I’m not a liar,” he said.

Among those “mistakes,” Smith acknowledged he could have done more to protect the scene from possible contamination and didn’t always follow best practices in processing the scene.

Sgt. Mark Smith was the only forensics officer available on the day Richard Oland’s body was discovered. He processed the bloody scene alone. (CBC)

The court heard about several officers entering the crime scene without wearing any protective gear, such as shoe coverings, and using the washroom in the foyer outside the office for two days before it was tested for evidence.

Michael Lacy, the newest member of Oland’s three-member defence team after Gary Miller stepped down just as the retrial began, accused police of treating the crime scene “like a tourist attraction.

A key piece of evidence in the Crown’s case against Oland is still his bloodstained brown sports jacket. Oland told police he wore a navy blazer when he visited his father, but security video and witness testimony showed he wore the brown jacket.

The jacket, which was dry cleaned the morning after Oland was told he was a suspect in his father’s death, was later found to have four small bloodstains on it and DNA matching his father’s profile.

Missing cellphone mystery

Arguably the most puzzling part of the case remains the victim’s missing iPhone.

Oland’s defence team told the court they misunderstood some of the cellphone-related evidence at the first trial.

“We were misinformed,” Gold had said. “​We now understand ‘roaming error’ correctly.”

The defence called their own cellphone expert at the retrial but then abruptly withdrew him, accusing the Crown of trying to ambush them with an unknown line of questioning.

Gregory Baumeister, a core network specialist with the telecommunications company Ericsson, declined to comment on what his testimony would have been.

Lawyers reverse positions on ‘roaming error’

The term roaming error relates to unsuccessful attempts by Rogers Communications to locate the iPhone for police by sending out a signal to try to “ping” it and obtain its GPS co-ordinates.

But the significance of that evidence remains unclear.

The Crown and defence have actually reversed positions regarding when Rogers performed the so-called forced registration of the iPhone.

The defence now contends it was on July 7, the day the victim’s bludgeoned body was discovered, as testified to by Sgt. David Brooker. The Crown now says the officer is mistaken and the date was July 9, 2011.

Richard Oland’s iPhone, the only item that went missing from the crime scene, had been plugged into his computer until 4:44 p.m. on the day he was killed. A review of the computer backup of the cellphone revealed no incriminating evidence. (Court exhibit)

The iPhone is the only item that was missing from the crime scene. The victim’s Rolex watch, wallet, electronics and keys to his BMW, which was parked outside, were left untouched.

“We unfortunately do not know exactly why the iPhone4 was taken,” Crown prosecutor Jill Knee, the newest member of the three-member prosecution team, said during opening statements. “We never will.”

The final communication received by the phone before it went silent was a text message on July 6 at 6:44 p.m., which was transmitted by a cell tower in Rothesay. The tower is near the Renforth wharf, where the accused told police he had stopped on his way home from visiting his father to see if his children were there.

Earlier on July 6, while the victim was at his office, his iPhone had communicated with a nearby tower in uptown Saint John.

3rd trip to office probed

Richard Oland’s bludgeoned body was found splayed on the floor of his office, just beyond the table with the Tim Hortons coffee cups on it. (Court exhibit)

During the retrial, the Crown focused more on Oland’s third trip to his father’s office the night he was killed.

Oland never mentioned this trip during his statement to police the day the body was discovered. It was only revealed during his testimony at his first trial.

He testified he went back to pick up an old camp logbook for his uncle. Knee alleged Oland didn’t tell police about the third trip because that’s when he killed his father.

“Absolutely not,” Oland said.

Dennis Oland’s defence team introduced into evidence this surveillance video shot on Canterbury Street on July 6, 2011, at 6:12 p.m. 0:10

The defence, meanwhile, spent more time addressing the Crown’s alleged money motive by laying out Oland’s long-term plan to deal with his deepening debt.

The Crown contends Oland was “on the edge financially,” his $163,000 line of credit and $27,000-limit credit card both maxed out. He had received a $16,000 advance on his pay, was overspending by about $14,000 a month, and his monthly $1,666.67 interest payment to his father bounced the day before he was killed.

Oland testified he wasn’t worried about his debt, and at the time he visited his father he didn’t know his cheque had come back for insufficient funds.

I’m not that kind of monster.– Dennis Oland

He said he was working on building his “book of business” as a financial adviser to increase his income. He also expected his wife would soon be going back to work, earning between $75,000 and $100,000, after being off for about a year for medical reasons.

If he needed more money, he said, he could have borrowed more.

The notion he killed his father is “absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “I’m not that kind of monster.”

The defence’s post-trial brief is due April 23 and the Crown’s by April 30.

The retrial is scheduled to resume on May 9 at 9:30 a.m. with closing arguments.

Morrison has said he doubts he’ll have a written decision ready before June 7 — just a month shy of the eight-year anniversary of Richard Oland’s death.

His son has maintained his innocence from the beginning and members of his extended family have stood by him.

This story originally appeared on CBC