New Brunswick

Jury selection in Dennis Oland's murder trial begins in Saint John

Jury selection in Dennis Oland's second-degree murder trial begins this morning in Saint John with one of the largest jury pools — if not the largest — in New Brunswick history.

Jury pool of 5,000 may be largest in New Brunswick history, larger than that of Magnotta, Pickton and Bernardo

Dennis Oland is charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 death of his father, Richard Oland. (CBC)

Jury selection in Dennis Oland's second-degree murder trial begins this morning in Saint John with one of the largest jury pools — if not the largest — in New Brunswick history.

About 1,000 potential jurors are expected to appear in a makeshift courtroom at Harbour Station at 9 a.m. before Justice John Walsh, of the Court of Queen's Bench, who has been brought in from Miramichi to hear the case.

But a total of 5,000 people from Saint John and Kings counties were sent summonses, confirmed Dave MacLean, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

That's significantly more than some of the most high-profile cases across Canada that have generated international headlines, including Luka Magnotta, Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo.

Oland, 46, is accused of killing his father, prominent businessman Richard Oland, whose body was discovered in his investment firm office, Far End Corp., in the city's uptown, on July 7, 2011.

The Oland family owns Moosehead Breweries Limited, the oldest independently owned brewery in Canada. Richard Oland left the company in the 1980s. His brother Derek now runs the brewery as its executive chairman.

An estimated 4,000 people have already been excused from jury duty by the head sheriff for a variety of reasons, as laid out in the provincial Jury Act, according to the Department of Justice spokesman.

"That number changes daily," MacLean said late last week, referring to a last-minute rush of people who had been away on summer holidays, seeking to be excused.

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)
The reasons cited "pretty much ran the gamut," with health reasons and financial hardship being some of the more common ones, he said.

The trial is scheduled to last 65 days and employers in New Brunswick are not required to pay employees' wages while they serve on a jury.

Jurors are paid a fee, however — $40 a day for the first nine days, which increases to $80 a day beyond that.

Asked how confident the department is that the remaining pool of about 1,000 will be large enough to end up with the required 12 jurors, two alternates and two additional jurors, MacLean said, "That's why we went with such a big pool, to do our best to make sure.

"There's no science on this one."

Nearly 17 times normal jury pool

Normally, only about 300 people are summonsed for trials in New Brunswick.

David Lutz, a veteran defence lawyer, said he believes 5,000 is a record for the province.

He says the last time any more than 500 summonses were sent in the Saint John area was in 2006, for the highly-publicized case of five Grand Manan men charged in connection with a brawl and the burning of a home on the island.

In that case, 2,000 people were summonsed by mail, said Lutz, who represented the accused.

Of those, about 350 showed up and only 10 jurors ended up being selected once several people were excused by the judge and others were rejected by the Crown or Lutz.

With two seats left to fill and no one left to choose from, Justice Hugh McLellan ordered sheriffs to hit the streets and bring back 25 more prospective jurors.

It's a small community and it's a well-known family, so they're being extra cautious.- Nicole O'Byrne, associate law professor

That was only the second time in Lutz's 30-plus year career a judge had to resort to the unusual measure to fill out the jury.

The other case was a drug cultivation and trafficking trial in 1998. Of the 101 prospective jurors summonsed, 58 appeared in court and only 10 jurors were selected.

Justice Robert Higgins sent sheriffs out over the lunch hour to pull 15 more people off the street to complete the jury.

Up to 1,500 summonses were initially expected to be mailed out in the Oland case. That was quickly increased to 3,000, and ultimately, 5,000.

Nicole O'Byrne, an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick's faculty of law, said she is not surprised by the unusually large jury pool.

"It's a small community and it's a well-known family, so they're being extra cautious," she said.

Allan Legere trial saw 500 summonses

Serial killer Allan Legere, who was already in prison for one murder, escaped from custody in May 1989 and killed four more people during a 201-day manhunt. The jury pool in his case was 500. (CBC)
By comparison, the 1991 case of notorious serial killer Allan Legere saw 500 summonses mailed out.

Legere was facing four counts of first-degree murder. The killing spree, which occurred after the previously convicted murderer escaped from prison guards in Moncton in May 1989, created widespread terror along the banks of the Miramichi River.

Because of the enormous amount of public attention the killings generated during the 201-day manhunt, Legere's trial was relocated from the northeastern community to Burton, just outside of Fredericton.

The trial lasted almost 10 weeks. Legere was convicted on all four counts and subsequently declared a dangerous offender, a designation that allows for permanent incarceration.

Luka Magnotta jury pool was 1,600

Luka Magnotta was convicted last year of the 2012 murder and dismemberment of Chinese engineering student Jun Lin. (Canadian Press)
The first-degree murder trial of Luka Magnotta in Montreal last year, which required jurors to be fluent in both English and French, started with summonses being issued to 1,600 people.

After hearing 10 weeks of evidence, the jury convicted Magnotta of the killing and dismemberment of Chinese engineering student Jun Lin in 2012.

Magnotta received an automatic life sentence for first-degree murder, with no possibility of parole for 25 years. He was sentenced to another 19 years for the four other charges he was convicted on:

  • Committing an indignity to a body.
  • Publishing obscene material.
  • Mailing obscene material.
  • Criminal harassment.

Robert Pickton case involved 3,500 summonses

In the 2006 trial of Robert Pickton, which was deemed the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history, about ​3,500 people received summonses.
Robert Pickton is shown in an undated image from TV. (Canadian Press/BCTV)

Pickton, a former B.C. pig farmer, had been charged with a 26 counts of first-degree murder involving female sex-trade workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

But a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that trying all 26 charges at once would take too long and would place an unreasonable burden on the jury, so the Crown proceeded with only six charges.

Still, the trial took about 10 months.

Pickton was found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey and Brenda Wolfe.

He was sentenced to six concurrent life sentences, with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. Both the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada have upheld the conviction.

Paul Bernardo started with 1,500 mail-outs

Paul Bernardo, who was convicted in the sex slayings of Ontario schoolgirls of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, was sentenced in 1995 to life with no chance for parole for 25 years. (CBC)
About 1,500 people were summonsed for the first-degree murder trial of Paul Bernardo in 1995.

At that time, it was touted as one of the biggest jury pools in Canadian history.

Given the high-profile nature of the case, involving the sex slayings of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14, 10 times what was then the normal number of summonses in Ontario were sent out.

The trial, which was scheduled to last about four months, was also moved to Toronto, instead of St. Catharines.

The jury convicted Bernardo of all nine charges against him.

Bernardo was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 25 years for raping and murdering French and Mahaffy, crimes he carried out with his then wife, Karla Homolka.

He was also given dangerous offender status for admitting to raping 14 other women and other charges related to French and Mahaffy.

The Dennis Oland jury pool of about 1,000 is expected to be broken down into smaller groups today and the selection process will continue on Wednesday at the Saint John Law Courts building.

A week has been set aside for jury selection.

The trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 16 and run until Dec. 18.

Oland, who was arrested and charged two years after his father's death, will only officially enter a plea when he appears before the judge and jury.

Oland, an investment adviser, continues to live in the community under conditions, including that he maintain his residence in Rothesay and advise police of any change of address or any travel outside New Brunswick. He was previously ordered to surrender his passport.

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