New Brunswick

Dennis Oland murder appeal hears concerns from top judge about trial

New Brunswick's top judge expressed concerns during Dennis Oland's appeal of his murder conviction on Tuesday about how the trial was conducted last year.

Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau 'troubled and surprised' by Crown's closing remarks to jury about 'beliefs'

Dennis Oland, 48, who is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years, appeared in the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick in Fredericton on Tuesday, where his lawyers are arguing to have his murder conviction overturned. (CBC)

New Brunswick's top judge expressed concerns during Dennis Oland's appeal of his murder conviction on Tuesday about how the trial was conducted last year.

But Court of Appeal Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau stopped short of saying those concerns would be enough to overturn Oland's conviction in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, multimillionaire Richard Oland.

Drapeau was responding to defence lawyer Alan Gold's suggestion that lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot may have crossed a line in his remarks to the jury by speculating about what transpired between Dennis Oland and his father.

"The Crown told the jury that what they would hear is 'what we believe actually happened,'" said Gold.

Gold described the comment as improper and unfair to Oland. "Our complaint is that there was a combination of speculation, highly prejudicial speculation, combined with a failure to put these allegations to the appellant."

Moreover, lawyers should never express personal beliefs, he said.

Drapeau said he was "intrigued" by the argument and noted Crown counsel, in particular, have "special obligations defence lawyers don't."

"I, too, am troubled and was surprised by the use of that expression," he said. "I don't know where that leaves us, but I certainly didn't like it," he added, asking Gold to provide some case law on how other appellant courts have handled the issue.

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

Oland, 48, was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury in Saint John's Court of Queen's Bench on Dec. 19, 2015. He is currently serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.

His three defence lawyers are seeking to have the verdict quashed and either an acquittal entered or a new trial ordered. They say it was an "unreasonable" verdict and a "miscarriage of justice."

Drapeau pledged the three-justice panel will provide a ruling quickly.

"If at all possible, given the circumstances, the court will render its verdict following the hearing," which is scheduled to wrap up on Thursday, he said.

"We will try to give a decision at the earliest opportunity so that both sides know where they stand."

The court may provide a decision without reasons to deliver the decision more quickly, Drapeau suggested.

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. No weapon was ever found.

Dennis Oland was the last known person to see him alive, during a meeting at his office the night before. Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer, but video surveillance and witness testimony showed he was wearing a brown sports jacket.

A brown Hugo Boss jacket seized from his bedroom closet had four small bloodstains on it and the DNA extracted from three of those areas matched his father's profile.

The appeal hearing resumes on Wednesday at 10 a.m. AT (9 a.m. ET). CBC New Brunswick is live streaming the proceedings from the small Fredericton courtroom, but is not allowed to show Oland or members of the public in the camera view.

The defence is expected to wrap up its case by noon, and then the Crown will make its arguments, which are expected to extend into Thursday morning, leaving Thursday afternoon for any replies.

Both sides previously submitted "exceptionally lengthy written submissions of high quality," said Drapeau, so the court has limited the amount of time they will get for oral arguments.

"If it takes a day to make an argument, maybe it's not very strong," he said.

Oland is still seeking to be released on bail pending the outcome of his appeal.

The Court of Appeal of New Brunswick twice refused to grant Oland bail, saying it would undermine the public's confidence in the justice system to release a convicted murderer.

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear his bail appeal on Oct. 31.