New Brunswick

Richard Oland's missing cellphone sent lead homicide investigator on journey

Dennis Oland's murder retrial focused Wednesday on the Saint John police investigation related to his slain father's missing cellphone.

Police tried to figure out where phone travelled after Saint John businessman was killed

The court has been hearing from Const. Stephen Davidson, Saint John police's lead investigator into the death of Richard Oland. (CBC)

Dennis Oland's murder retrial focused Wednesday on the Saint John police investigation related to his slain father's missing cellphone.

Lead investigator Const. Stephen Davidson testified about making a series of test calls from various locations between Saint John and Rothesay using an iPhone 4 similar to the one owned by the victim, Richard Oland.

Police wanted to see which cell towers picked up the signals — an issue the Crown continued to explore as recently as February 2018, the courtroom heard.

The last communication received by the victim's iPhone was a text message sent by his mistress at 6:44 p.m. on July 6, 2011.

It pinged off a cell tower in Rothesay, near the Renforth Wharf, where Dennis Oland told police he had stopped on his way home from visiting his father at his office in uptown Saint John that night, when he became the last known person to see him alive.

The 69-year-old's body was discovered in his office the next morning, face down in a pool of blood. He had suffered 45 sharp- and blunt-force injuries to his head, neck and hands.

The iPhone was the only thing that was missing from the multimillionaire's office at 52 Canterbury St., while valuable items, such as his Rolex watch, wallet, and the keys to his BMW, which was parked outside, were all left untouched.

Before he was killed, the phone had connected with a cell tower near his office, the court has heard.

A radio frequency engineer will testify cellular devices usually connect with the tower that provides the strongest signal, which, as a general rule, is the closest one, Crown prosecutor Jill Knee said during opening remarks at the beginning of the trial.

On Wednesday, Davidson used numbered red stickers to indicate on a satellite photo the various locations from which he made test calls using an iPhone 4. (Court exhibit)

Davidson told the court he conducted the test calls over four days in March 2012, starting in the uptown area. He made 59 calls from random locations.

All of the calls successfully connected with a landline in a locked room at the police station, he said.

He also conducted test calls at the Renforth Wharf, he said. Fifteen of the 20 calls were recorded by Rogers, he said.

The second call didn't go through, there was no signal, said Davidson. The fourth call failed and the fifth had no clear ring, only "scrambled noise," he said.

The network also changed from Rogers 3G to Rogers E while he was there, Davidson said, referring to his notes.

No evidence about the significance of that or which cell towers the calls pinged off of has been presented yet.

During Oland's first trial in 2015, his defence lawyers argued that cell tower prediction models are based on a cellphone being at a height of 1.5 metres — the equivalent of a person standing at street level holding a phone.

If the victim's ​cellphone was in his 2nd-floor office when the last text was received, that basic assumption wouldn't apply, they posited.

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

Oland, 50, is being retried for second-degree murder in the death of his father after the Court of Appeal overturned his December 2015 conviction in October 2016 and ordered a new trial, citing an error in the trial judge's instructions to the jury.

Davidson testified Wednesday about some additional test calls he made in March 2012 to see how the iPhone 4 responded to calls when it was on, in sleep mode and powered off. He made the calls at Renforth Wharf using another cellphone.

When the iPhone was on, it rang four times before going to voice mail, when it was in sleep mode, it displayed the incoming call on the screen and had four audible rings before going to voice mail, and when it was powered off, two test calls both went immediately to voice mail, he said.

Davidson said this aerial photo illustrates the location and direction he took photos of cell towers from, as requested by the Crown's radio frequency engineer. (Court exhibit)

The court also heard about some emails between Davidson and the Crown's cell tower expert, radio frequency engineer Joseph Sadoun, earlier this year.

Davidson said Sadoun asked him to take certain photos of certain towers. He took some on Jan. 26 and some more on Feb. 15, he said.

The photos were entered into evidence, but have not been explained yet.

The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m. with continued testimony and cross-examination of Davidson.

Dennis Oland has maintained his innocence from the beginning, and members of his extended family have stood by him. (CBC)

Davidson had only joined the major crime unit in Saint John three days before the victim's body was discovered, the courtroom heard on Tuesday.

He was still setting up his new desk when he was dispatched on the call, which came in with the description of an unconscious male, not-breathing, he said.

Davidson testified he entered the bloody office with Const. Tony Gilbert, coming within about 10 feet, or about three metres, of the body, close enough to observe the significant trauma to the victim's head, before retracing his steps.

He also unlocked and opened a door in the second-floor foyer outside the office because he "wanted to see where it led," he said.

The door was never tested for evidence, such as fingerprints or touch DNA, because it had been contaminated, the head of the forensics unit has testified.

The defence has argued the door would have been the preferred exit route of the "killer or killers" because it led to a back alley.

Davidson said he notified the victim's family in the afternoon. Family members were attentive but "not overly emotional," he said.

Dennis Oland's wife, Lisa, was the only one visibly upset, he said.

That evening, Davidson interviewed Dennis Oland, initially as a witness who might have information helpful to the investigation. By the end of the interview, Oland was considered a possible suspect, he said.

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