Dennis Oland gets new 2nd-degree murder trial, as appeal court cites judge's error
Millionaire N.B. businessman Richard Oland was found murdered in his Saint John office in 2011
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial in the second-degree murder conviction of Dennis Oland in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, Richard.
The appeal panel quashed the jury's guilty verdict on Monday morning, saying the trial judge had erred in his instructions to jury on a "key piece of the evidential puzzle" — whether Oland had "lied" to police about what he was wearing the night they believe his multimillionaire father was killed.
Gasps from Oland's family and friends filled the small Fredericton courtroom when the ruling was announced. Oland's mother Connie, his wife Lisa and sister Jacqueline Walsh were holding hands, hugging and crying.
Oland, 48, who was sitting in the prisoner's box at the back of the courtroom with a sheriff's deputy on either side of him, showed little reaction initially, but later appeared to be fighting back tears and grinning.
The father of two daughters, a son and a stepson remains in custody, but he has "reacquired the presumption of innocence," said Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau. A bail hearing has been scheduled for 11 a.m. AT Tuesday.
Oland was released on bail pending his first trial and abided by all of the court-imposed conditions.
The Crown could exercise its "prosecutorial discretion" and choose not to retry Oland if a reasonable prospect of conviction no longer exists.
The Attorney General's office has declined to comment. "As the matter is going back in front of the court, it wouldn't be appropriate," spokeswoman Sheila Legacé stated in an email to CBC News.
If a new trial does proceed, Drapeau said he expects it would be "considerably shorter" than Oland's trial last fall, which lasted about 50 days.
A trial would likely be heard by a judge and jury again, as stipulated by the Criminal Code for all homicide cases.
Oland could request to be tried by judge alone, but the Crown would have to consent, and its decision cannot be appealed. Similarly, the Crown could request a judge-alone trial, but the defence would have to consent.
It was one of the largest jury pools in New Brunswick history and larger than some of the most high-profile cases across Canada, including Luka Magnotta, Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo.
Oland's family members, who have stood by him from the beginning, maintaining his innocence, did not offer any comments outside the courthouse Monday.
But his uncle Derek Oland, the executive chairman of Moosehead Breweries, who attended the hearing, issued a written statement.
"I am very pleased the Supreme Court of New Brunswick has granted a retrial for my nephew, Dennis Oland," he said. "We continue to believe Dennis is innocent."
Oland's friend, Larry Cain, said only, "Good news. Good news. Really happy."
Gold, Gary Miller and James McConnell had been seeking to have Oland acquitted, or a new trial ordered.
Asked whether Oland will seek leave to appeal the non-acquittal to the Supreme Court of Canada, Gold replied they will focus on preparing for Tuesday's bail hearing.
Justice Marc Richard, the judge who denied Oland bail in February, saying "the confidence of the public in the administration of justice would be undermined" if a convicted murderer were to be released pending appeal, will hear the matter.
Crown prosecutors Kathryn Gregory and Derek Weaver weren't immediately available for comment. They could seek leave to appeal to the provincial appeal court's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oland?src=hash">#Oland</a> supporter exits courthouse shouting "Free Oland! Free Oland! innocence prevails!"—@BJMCBC
The three-justice appeal panel dismissed the other grounds of appeal argued by the defence, but ruled the trial judge's instructions on Oland's post-offence conduct were "fundamentally flawed."
Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer when he visited his father at his Saint John investment firm office on July 6, 2011, the night police said the murder occurred.
The jurors might well have found [Oland] lied about the jacket he was wearing and in the closing moments of their deliberations distilled from that … finding the clinching element for their verdict.- Ernest Drapeau, chief justice
Video surveillance and witness testimony showed Oland was actually wearing a brown sports jacket, which was later found to have four small bloodstains on it, and DNA extracted from three of those areas matched his father's profile.
The Crown argued it was a "lie" intended to mislead police, but the defence maintained it was an "innocent mistake."
"Articulation of false alibis and lies can be easily exaggerated and their occurrence misapplied," said the chief justice, who read the unanimous decision aloud in the packed courtroom.
There are legal rules to follow to safeguard against prejudicial impact on trial fairness, he said. "Regrettably the trial judge [Justice John Walsh] did not apply this framework."
Oland's previously scheduled bail appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to proceed on Oct. 31, said Gold.
The defence sought leave to appeal after the New Brunswick Court of Appeal twice denied Oland bail pending his conviction appeal.
Toronto lawyer Christopher Hicks previously told CBC News the case is an area of law the Supreme Court of Canada has never dealt with before — bail pending appeal, and it will want to set down some guidelines.
The body of Richard Oland, 69, was discovered lying face down in a pool of blood in his office on July 7, 2011. He had suffered 45 blunt and sharp-force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.
His son, Dennis Oland, was the last known person to see him alive.
Oland has been in custody since Dec. 19, when a Saint John Court of Queen's Bench jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. He has been serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
The other members of the appeal panel were Justice Margaret Larlee and Justice Kathleen Quigg.