For the first time in four-and-a-half years, Connie Oland has opened up about the "living hell" she has endured as the widow of murder victim Richard Oland, and the mother of Dennis Oland, convicted in the slaying.
"From July 7, 2011 to the present, and now more months to come, we have lived a nightmare," she wrote in a six-page handwritten letter to New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Walsh.
She declined, as Richard Oland's widow, to write a victim impact statement for the judge's consideration at her son's second-degree murder sentencing hearing in Saint John last week.
But as Dennis Oland's mother, she submitted a character reference letter, in which she steadfastly maintains his innocence.
"Dennis Oland is a good man and he did not kill his father," she wrote in the letter, dated Jan. 16.
Sixty-six people submitted letters of support, including his sister, Jacqueline Walsh. His other sister, Lisa Bustin, did not.
Dennis Oland, 48, was sentenced on Feb. 11 to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years for the bludgeoning death of his multimillionaire father.
But Oland is appealing his conviction and on Wednesday, Court of Appeal Justice Marc Richard will decide, in what could be a precedent-setting case for New Brunswick, whether to release him on bail, pending his appeal.
Private lives exposed
The lengthy high-profile court case has exposed intimate details about the private lives of the entire Oland family, including the eight-year extramarital affair Richard Oland had been having with former local realtor, Diana Sedlacek.
Evidence presented during the trial revealed Connie Oland had actually learned of her husband's death indirectly through his long-time mistress.
Sedlacek, who had been unable to reach Richard Oland since the evening of July 6, 2011, had called the family home in Rothesay the next morning to ask why there were police cars outside his Saint John investment firm office.
His wife then called his business associate, Bob McFadden, and "found out from a very peculiar phone conversation" that her husband of 46 years, the father of her three children, was dead.
Days before murder 'a very happy time'
"I would like to explain to you how we went from a very happy time in late June of 2011, into a living hell by July 7, 2011," she wrote in her letter to the judge.
On June 25, 2011, her children, brother, sister, brother-in-law and cousins had gathered in Rothesay to celebrate her cousin May Bourne's 100th birthday.
Her husband "Dick" was "very fond" of Bourne and wanted to attend the celebration, she said. He had chartered his own plane after participating in the Block Island Regatta in Rhode Island to ensure he got there in time, the trial heard.
After the party ended, they all went to Dennis Oland's home for the evening and viewed pictures of his recent trip to England, where he had researched Oland family history.
"Dick was leaving the next morning for an eight-day fishing trip but father and son decided to get together when the trip was over and discuss 'the Olands,'" she wrote. Genealogy was an interest the two shared, the trial heard.
Her husband returned from the fishing trip in a "great mood" and they went out to dinner that night with the relatives who were still at their home.
On July 6, when Oland didn't show up for dinner, she figured he must have gone to a Ganong Bros. Limited meeting in St. Stephen.
"Earlier in the day I had been talking to a friend of mine whose husband was attending such a meeting," she explained. "Ganongs was in a dire financial position and Dick had put money into the company."
Later that evening, when he still didn't come home, she figured he had spent the night in St. Stephen.
Family notified 5 hours after body discovered
It was only the following day, when she spoke to McFadden at 12:30 p.m., that she learned her husband's body had been discovered in his office around 9 a.m.
"The police finally arrived at my home at 2 p.m. to tell us that Dick was dead," she wrote. But the officers provided few details.
Although the family members were "still in total shock," they all agreed to go to the police station to give statements that might help with the investigation.
Connie Oland and her daughter, Jacqueline Walsh, were interviewed together. "Any time we tried to ask for information as to how Dick died, [the officer] would jump up off the bench he was sitting on," she said. "To me, this was very peculiar behaviour."
Dick could be 'very difficult and controlling'
Her letter also touches on her husband's personality, their marriage and her son's character.
She says she started dating "Dick" when she was 16 years old and "realized his personality was different."
She attributes that, in part, to the way she says he was raised — through "yelling and put downs."
A friend, who was a clinical psychologist, also later diagnosed him with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, she said.
'Dick's personality was the norm for our family and we all knew how to work around that norm.' - Connie Oland
"This became more severe when Dick left the brewery [Moosehead Breweries Ltd. in the 1980s during a bitter dispute with his brother, Derek Oland], had to start a trucking company basically from scratch and was also in charge of organizing the 1985 Summer Games."
But "Dick's personality was the norm for our family and we all knew how to work around that norm," she said.
As she explained to a probation officer who was preparing a pre-sentence report on her son, her late husband "just did not always seem to understand how his words might offend someone."
"She would sit him down at the kitchen table and explain it to him. Accordingly Richard Oland would then make amends and peace would be restored between them."
Son is 'gentle,' 'caring'
Her late husband could also be "very difficult and controlling at times," she told the probation officer.
"She also indicated that Richard Oland was a little harder on Dennis who had a much more 'gentle' way about him," the pre-sentence report indicates.
In her letter, however, she also notes that her late husband thought their son's personality was similar to that of her uncle, Gordon Fairweather, of whom he was "fond." Fairweather had been the head of the first Human Rights Commission and later chairman of the Refugee and Immigration Board.
"Dennis has always had a caring personality and 'stood up' for the underdog," she wrote.
When Richard Oland's mother died in 1995, it was Dennis he turned to to plan her funeral, she said.
Connie Oland also shared an anecdote in the letter about father and son competing against one another in a sailing race in 2007. The boat Dennis Oland was crewing on passed the finish line before his father's. "They both got a chuckle out of this," she wrote.
Sailing and skiing were activities they did together as a family. Even when Dennis Oland was working in Toronto he would attend their their annual family ski trip, she said.
He, in turn, has since taught his own children to ski and sail and canoe, she wrote, describing him as a "caring father," with "great patience."
"The teen years are hard enough in the best of circumstances, but my four oldest grandchildren have had to deal with more than their share. They have suffered greatly," she wrote.
"This living hell has affected my whole family."
The body of Richard Oland, 69, was discovered lying face down in a pool of blood in his Saint John investment firm office on July 7, 2011. He had suffered 45 sharp and blunt force injuries to his head, neck and hands.
His only son, Dennis Oland, was the last known person to see his father alive during a meeting at his office the night before.
Connie Oland's Character Reference Letter
Connie Oland's Character Reference Letter (PDF KB)
Connie Oland's Character Reference Letter (Text KB)