New Brunswick

Dennis Oland's bloodstained jacket was dry cleaned hours after police questioning

Dennis Oland's bloodstained brown sports jacket was dropped off to be dry cleaned the morning after he was questioned by Saint John police about the death of his father, and next-day service was requested, his murder retrial heard Tuesday.

Defence objected to forensic testing in pre-trial brief but acknowledged judge bound by appeal court ruling

Dennis Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer when he visited his father on July 6, 2011, but witnesses and security video showed he was wearing a brown sports jacket. (Court exhibit)

Dennis Oland's bloodstained brown sports jacket was dropped off to be dry cleaned the morning after he was questioned by Saint John police about the death of his father, and next-day service was requested, his murder retrial heard Tuesday.

But the dry cleaner didn't notice any stains on the jacket.

Jinhee Choi, who co-owns VIP Dry Cleaners with her husband, confirmed the yellow tag still attached to the collar of the jacket presented in court is the type the company uses and the serial number on the tag corresponds with an order dropped off at the Rothesay shop on Friday, July 8, 2011, at 9:08 a.m.

The order was under the name of Oland's wife, Lisa, and included another sports jacket and a pair of pants, as well as 16 dress shirts to be laundered, she told the court, with the help of a Korean interpreter flown in from British Columbia.

A receipt seized from Oland's home on July 14, 2011, matched the store copy.

Choi's husband, Yang Hwan Nam, had crossed out "Mon" for Monday on the receipt and written "Sat" for Saturday instead for quicker turnaround service than VIP's usual two business days, the courtroom heard.

Choi said she couldn't recall who dropped the items off, but she remembers Lisa paid for them the next day, and she saw Oland waiting outside in the passenger seat of the couple's vehicle.

Oland, 50, is being retried for second-degree murder in the death of his father, multimillionaire Richard Oland.

He was the last known person to see his father alive when he visited him at his office on July 6, 2011, from around 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The body of the 69-year-old 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. No weapon was ever found.

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

Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer the day his father was killed, but witnesses and security video showed he was wearing a brown sports jacket.

The jacket was later found to have four areas of blood on it and DNA matching the victim's profile, Crown prosecutor Jill Knee said during opening remarks at the retrial. It is a key piece of evidence in the Crown's case against Oland.

Choi confirmed under direct examination by Knee that VIP uses "environmentally friendly" hydro carbon products, which are gentler than what some other dry cleaners use.

In 2011, they used a product called BPR to remove any blood or protein stains.

Asked how well it worked, Nam, Choi's husband, said it depended on the condition of the clothing and extent of the staining.

Asked whether the dry-cleaning process alone would be enough to remove stains, Nam said some stains do come out without pre-treatment, but others do not.

The yellow dry-cleaning tag was still attached to the collar of Dennis Oland's brown sports jacket when it was seized from his bedroom closet on July 14, 2011. (Court exhibit)

The defence has downplayed the significance of the jacket being dry cleaned and on an expedited schedule, arguing the family needed clean clothes for the upcoming visitation and funeral.

The defence has suggested the small bloodstains were the result of innocent transfer.

Lead defence lawyer Alan Gold stressed Tuesday that Choi and her husband always check items for any stains that might require special treatment before cleaning, but told police they didn't notice any blood on the jacket.

"That's the truth, correct?" he asked. 

"Yes," she replied.

Gold suggested if someone brought in an item with lots of bloodstains on it, Choi would remember that. She agreed. "That never happened, did it?" he asked. "No," she replied.

Nam testified he can't remember now exactly what he told police because it was so long ago.

When officers came to the shop to question them in July 2011, he was busy working, he said, and he didn't go to the police station to give a formal statement until Feb. 4, 2015 — 3½ years after the homicide.

He confirmed, however, that he always rechecks items for any stains after dry cleaning.

The defence has argued the bloodstains found on Oland's jacket, like this one on the upper left chest area, were minuscule and could have been the result of 'innocent transfer.' (Court exhibit)

Gold also suggested if the Olands were in a big rush to get the jacket cleaned in a bid to cover up any alleged evidence related to the killing, they could have requested same-day service at no extra cost.

He pointed out next-day service was not an unusual request for the Olands. Lisa had requested it on her previous order on June 24, which was also a Friday.

The pickup time for the standard two-day service is after 3 p.m. on the second day, Choi confirmed. So if a customer dropped off an item on a Friday morning and needed it by Sunday, they would have to request same-day or next-day service, the court heard.

The retrial is scheduled to continue Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. with questioning of the lead investigator Const. Stephen Davidson.

Defence wanted blood, DNA evidence thrown out

Oland's defence team wanted to have forensic evidence from his bloodstained brown sports jacket deemed inadmissible at his murder retrial but realized the judge was bound by a higher court decision on the issue, recently released court documents show.

In February, as part of a pre-trial hearing, the defence filed written arguments on its Charter objection to any evidence Saint John police derived from forensic testing of the jacket, which was seized from Oland's bedroom closet one week after his father's body was discovered.

"While the defence would wish to revisit the issue of whether the forensic testing of the jacket was authorized by the house warrant, it appears this Honourable Court is bound by [the first trial judge's] ruling on the issue, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick," the defence brief states.

"Accordingly, the defence makes no further submissions."

A jury found Oland guilty of second-degree murder in December 2015, but the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction in October 2016 and ordered a new trial, citing an error in the trial judge's instructions to the jury.

Oland's lawyers tried to have the Hugo Boss jacket thrown out as evidence at his first trial, arguing there was insufficient information for the house search warrant to be granted, and that any testing of the jacket required additional judicial authorization.

But Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Walsh ruled the warrant and testing were both valid.

In 2017, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal upheld Walsh's decision.

"I am in agreement with the trial judge's rulings and the supporting reasons he has provided," Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau wrote on behalf of the three-justice panel. "Nothing further need be said on point."

Still, the defence reiterated its objection earlier this year in its pre-trial brief, which was previously under a publication ban.

"The defence maintains that the house warrant did not authorize the post-seizure forensic testing of the jacket and, relying on the written and oral submissions made in the 2015 Charter application, objects to the admissibility of this evidence," the lawyers wrote.

They also submitted two cases decided after Walsh's 2015 ruling, which they contend support their view that the forensic testing of the jacket was a separate search from the search authorized by the house warrant, "involving a different level of privacy interests, and therefore a separate judicial warrant of authorization."

The publication ban was lifted once Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison declared a mistrial of Oland's jury retrial. The case is now being heard by Morrison alone, without a jury.