Dennis Oland's defence team review the evidence looking for reasonable doubt
An ‘ear’ witness and crime scene contamination raise questions about Oland’s guilt
It's human nature to want to know the end of the story. We want the mystery solved. So when defence counsel says, "My guy didn't do it!" during a trial, our natural response is, "Then who did?"
Hollywood leads us to believe that there's often some great revelation in the courtroom that turns everything around and reveals the truth of who committed a crime. But in reality, answering the question, "If not him, then who?" is not the defence counsel's job. Their job is to protect the rights of their client and establish a reasonable doubt based on the evidence (or lack thereof).
In 2015, Dennis Oland was convicted on charges of second-degree murder after his father, prominent businessman Richard Oland, was found bludgeoned to death in his Saint John, N.B., office. After the New Brunswick Court of Appeal ordered a retrial, Dennis's lawyers worked with a team of private investigators and forensic experts to mount his defence, as documented in the series, The Oland Murder.
Here is some of the information they concentrated on that raised the question of reasonable doubt.
Police may have contaminated the crime scene's back door, a potential route of escape for the murderer
The Saint John police took a lot of heat during Dennis Oland's original trial and retrial for their conduct at the crime scene. For one, police couldn't say for certain whether or not the back door of Richard Oland's office, which exits to an alley and is just steps away from where Richard lay beaten, may have been unlocked the morning the body was found.
Police officers had opened and closed this door throughout the day, leaving forensics officer Sgt. Mark Smith to deem it likely too contaminated to render any useful evidence. The defence argued that this back door was a more logical escape route than the front door, and failure to protect it meant important evidence related to the killer's identity might have been lost.
Who had access to the crime scene evidence?
Re-reading the testimony of the officers during the first trial raised questions in the minds of private investigators on Dennis Oland's defence team. Were the exhibits gathered from the crime scene and from Dennis's home treated in a way that would have maintained their integrity?
While the defence couldn't find any concrete examples of cross contamination, it seems the Saint John police were never asked to account for exactly who had access to important evidence from the time it was gathered until it found its way to court four years later. This raised doubts about certain pieces of evidence, particularily the brown jacket Dennis had been seen wearing the night of his father's murder.
Alleged 'ear' witness could corroborate the defence's murder timeline
Two men working in a print shop located one floor below Richard's office reported to police that sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. on the evening of the murder they had heard banging and thumping noises. At that time, Dennis Oland can be seen on security footage at a convenience store in the town of Rothesay.
But one of the men later changed his account, saying he heard the sounds sometime between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., and if that time were correct, then Dennis could have been the culprit as police maintained.
This time the defence team investigated a report that revealed a woman who worked at a law firm across the alley from the crime scene had reported hearing the sound of two men shouting or arguing around the same time period the men had originally mentioned. If the defence could prove that arguing could be heard from that distance, they may be able to raise considerable reasonable doubt, not to mention shore up the testimony of a key witness.
For more on Dennis Oland's retrial, watch The Oland Murder.