The lead investigator in the year-old Richard Oland murder investigation says that while he's confident Saint John police have the right suspect in mind, he cannot say an arrest will be made soon.
Const. Stephen Davidson made the comments in provincial court Friday, during cross-examination by David Coles, a lawyer representing CBC News and the Telegraph-Journal in a bid to have search warrant documents in the case made public.
Police Chief Bill Reid recently told CBC News he believes investigators are "very, very close" to laying charges in the death of Oland, a prominent Saint John businessman.
Davidson stopped short of saying he disagreed with the chief's statement, but said it's difficult to say since evidence is still coming in.
"In my opinion, it may not be a short period of time," he said.
In an affidavit previously released, Davidson said 378 pieces of evidence have been seized to date. Of those, 243 require forensic analysis. So far, only 43 exhibits have been sent.
Outside the courtroom, Coles told reporters that one of the reasons police have given for keeping search warrant details secrets is that some of the information is so-called "hallmark" evidence that only the person or persons responsible for Oland's death would know and by withholding it, they can prevent false confessions.
"My point simply is that the chief of police has publicly announced on more than one occasion that no, no, they have one suspect. And further, he, at least, has said an arrest is in short order.
"Well, how do you reconcile that reality with saying, ‘Look, we’ve got to keep this confidential to control potential false confessions?’"
Provincial court Chief Judge R. Leslie Jackson has reserved his decision on releasing the search warrants and related documents. He will issue a written decision on or before Sept. 28.
Oland, 69, was found dead in his uptown office on July 7, 2011.
Police have been focused on one suspect since the beginning of the investigation, Davidson told the court Friday, adding that the investigation is "ongoing."
Davidson did not agree with Coles that the file isn't as active as it once was. But he acknowledged police initially had as many as 20 officers working on the file, and that has been "scaled back" to two dedicated officers in the major crime unit, and two forensic officers.
Warrants made public
Seven of nine search warrants and several related documents were released on Thursday, but they are heavily redacted.
Coles hoped the two other redacted warrants, dealing with a log book, would be released late Friday. He also argued to have additional blacked-out details released.
However, after hearing closing arguments behind closed doors, the judge decided to reserve his decision.
Despite the delay, Coles told reporters outside the courtroom he is pleased.
"There’s a lot of issues. Those redacted affidavits, informations to obtain [search warrants]
, you know, they make reference to some 60 statements by people.
"The judge has to review all of those and he has to consider the argument of all the counsel, so there’s work that has to go into this decision and quite frankly, to render on a decision, I suggest, this important. I think the court’s doing Yeoman’s service to come out with a learned decision by Sept. 28," he said.
"Certainly I feel we had every opportunity to articulate our position that the interim redactions effectively leave no evidence as to why these warrants were granted and that the redactions are too broad and that there has to be a release of further information. Otherwise, the process becomes sort of meaningless," Coles added.
'Unless there is a strong justification that somehow the administration of justice will be brought into peril — and that is based on evidence, rather than simply supposition — this should be public.'—David Coles, media lawyer
He said he feels the position of the media outlets is "strong."
"Unless there is a strong justification that somehow the administration of justice will be brought into peril — and that is based on evidence, rather than simply supposition — this should be public," he said.
Parts of the hearing were held in-camera, with the judge hearing submissions from the Crown prosecutors, lawyers representing members of the Oland family, and Coles.
During a public part of the hearing, Coles told the court another one of the arguments police have given for withholding information contained in the search warrants is so that the case won't be "tainted" by what people may read or hear in the media.
But he noted that police have interviewed 60 people in the case and there's nothing to prevent those individuals from sharing what they've told police with other people, which could also taint the evidence.
"It might, yes," replied Davidson, who was questioned by lawyers on both sides of the case. "We don't control what they do with it. We can control — once they've given it to us — what we do with it."
Coles also noted that the last search warrant executed in the case was on Nov. 15, 2011 — nine months ago.
He questioned whether any outstanding evidence may have already been destroyed by the person or persons responsible for Oland's death.
Davidson said he could not speculate, suggesting that is not always so and it depends on the case.