A decision in Dennis Oland’s murder retrial in the death of his father, Richard Oland, is not expected until at least July 19 — more than eight years after the multimillionaire was bludgeoned to death in his Saint John office.
New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Terrence Morrison had hoped to have a ruling ready by June 7. But after hearing closing arguments on Thursday, he said he now realizes that was “wildly optimistic.”
“I realize that it’s a strain on everyone — the accused, his family, the media, the general public — the longer this goes on, but it’s important that I get it right,” he said.
Morrison noted there aren’t many judge-alone murder trials “and even fewer that are this lengthy and complex.”
Oland, 51, is being retried for second-degree murder after the New Brunswick Court of Appeal overturned his conviction and released him on bail in 2016, citing an error in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury.
His retrial began last November and lasted 44 days, spanning four months. It heard from 61 witnesses and featured 309 exhibits.
Unlike a jury, a judge must give detailed written reasons for his or her decision that can stand up to judicial scrutiny upon appeal. Morrison cited other shorter trials where the judges took three or four months to deliver their decisions.
If he isn’t ready by July 19, Morrison said he will notify counsel. He also thanked the Crown and defence teams for the “tremendous amount of work” they’ve put into the case and professionalism during the trial.
The body of Richard Oland, 69, was found face down in a pool of blood in his investment firm office on the morning of July 7, 2011.
The prominent businessman had suffered 45 sharp- and blunt-force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was found and the only item missing was his cellphone.
His son is the last known person to have seen him alive during a visit to his office the night before.
Oland sat quietly Thursday, listening to closing arguments from his seat near his lawyers, outside the prisoner’s box. The courtroom was filled with friends and members of his family, including his uncle, Derek Oland, the victim’s brother and executive chairman of Moosehead Breweries.
Defence alleges ‘confirmation bias’
The defence accused Saint John police and the Crown of falling victim to “confirmation bias” and cautioned the judge against doing the same.
Alan Gold argued police immediately focused on Oland as the likely killer and viewed all evidence through that prism, giving importance to facts that supported that view and dismissing those that didn’t.
It’s human nature to “distort facts in order to establish a proposition of guilt,” said Gold. “This is how our minds work.”
“In our respectful submission, this case provides fertile ground for that to occur.”
Gold argued police and the Crown dismissed the statement of Anthony Shaw, who said he heard thumping noises coming from the victim’s office around 7:30 p.m. on the night he was killed because it didn’t fit their pre-existing theories.
Both sides agree the noises were the sounds of the killing, but Oland had left his father’s office around 6:30 p.m., the trial has heard.
The court has also seen timestamped security video of Oland shopping with his wife at 7:38 p.m. in the neighbouring community of Rothesay, which is about a 15- or 20-minute drive from the city.
John Ainsworth, who was with Shaw that night and testified the noises could have happened as early as 6 p.m., should not be believed, argued Gold, because his time estimate was the same as Shaw’s for three months until he realized that helped Oland’s case, the lawyer alleged.
Gold argued there are pieces missing in the Crown’s circumstantial case. “If the pieces don’t fit, you must acquit,” he told the judge, echoing the famous phrase from the O.J. Simpson trial.
No ‘tunnel vision’
Lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot said the case is “not about tunnel vision or confirmation bias — not in the police investigation, not in the prosecution — despite what the defence would have you believe.”
“It’s about a father and son, one wealthy and one not,” he said.
The Crown alleges the motive was money, and contends Oland was “on the edge financially,” overspending by about $14,000 a month with his credit maxed-out and income as a financial adviser shrinking.
Shaw’s “guesstimate” about the timing of the thumping noises was not ignored, said Veniot. But the “only reasonable inference,” in light of all the other evidence, is that the killing occurred prior to 6:44 p.m.
That’s when the final communication received by the victim’s missing cellphone before it went silent was transmitted by a cell tower in Rothesay, near the wharf where Oland told police he had stopped on his way home from visiting his father.
Similarly, the “reasonable inference” is that Oland wore his brown Hugo Boss sports jacket “when he committed the crime,” the Crown alleged.
Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer that night, but security video and witness testimony showed he was wearing the brown jacket.
The jacket was dry-cleaned the morning after police told Oland he was a suspect in his father’s death, and was later found to have four small bloodstains on it — two on the right sleeve, one on the upper-left chest and one on the back, in the middle, near the hem.
The DNA extracted from three of the stains matched his father’s profile. The chances the DNA did not belong to Richard Oland were of one in 20 quintillion, the trial heard. By comparison, the estimated world population is only between seven and eight billion.
These facts did not arise from “circular reasoning,” as alleged by the defence, argued Veniot.
“This is a case about all the evidence and how it fits together — not trying to explain away individual pieces of evidence in a vacuum.”
After careful consideration of the entirety of the evidence, Veniot asserted the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Oland murdered his father.
The judge asked both the Crown and defence detailed questions about their closing arguments and their previously submitted post-trial briefs.
He stressed that his questions should not be interpreted as any predetermination of the case “in any way, shape or form.”
Morrison asked, for example, about the Crown’s position that the killing was a “crime of passion,” allegedly sparked by rage over Oland’s father refusing to give him money.
He pointed out that the murder weapon must have been brought to the scene and removed, since no weapon was found and the victim’s cellphone was the only known item to be missing. “How does that not speak to premeditation?” he asked, which would bring a charge of first-degree murder, as opposed to second-degree.
Veniot acknowledged there is no evidence about what the weapon was or where it came from. There are “gaps” in the evidence, he said, suggesting that’s “not out of the ordinary for these types of cases.”
“We would not be asking you to draw inferences if we had direct evidence of everything,” 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. He served about 10 months before the appeal court quashed his conviction.
Oland, who continues to live in the community under conditions, has maintained his innocence from the beginning and members of his extended family have stood by him.
This story originally appeared on CBC