Dennis Oland defence closes its case at murder retrial
Court visited crime scene where body of father Richard was discovered 7½ years ago
Dennis Oland's defence team closed its case Tuesday at his murder retrial in the 2011 death of his father, but it will be at least another two months before the judge delivers a verdict.
Court of Queen's Justice Terrence Morrison said he "very much doubt[s]" he'll have his written decision ready before June 7 — just one month shy of the eight-year anniversary of Richard Oland's death.
"It may be even longer," Morrison told the Saint John courtroom.
"Unlike a jury that doesn't have to give reasons, I have to give detailed reasons. So it does take a fair amount of effort to make sure those reasons are cogent and can withstand judicial scrutiny."
The defence called Oland's maternal uncle Jack Connell as its final witness Tuesday, Day 44 of the retrial.
The judge, Oland, lawyers and court stenographer also visited the crime scene — the victim's office at 52 Canterbury St. — as requested by the defence.
Two sheriff's deputies stood guard outside during the private visit, which lasted less than 10 minutes, as reporters and a few curious citizens looked on.
The retrial is now adjourned until May 9 at 9:30 a.m., when the Crown and defence will give their oral closing arguments, which could extend into the following day if the judge has any questions.
Oland, 51, is being retried for second-degree murder in the death of his multimillionaire father after the New Brunswick Court of Appeal overturned his conviction, citing an error in the trial judge's instructions to the jury.
The body of 69-year-old was found in his investment firm office, Far End Corporation, on the morning of July 7, 2011, face down in a large pool of blood.
He had suffered 45 sharp- and blunt-force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found and the only item missing was his cellphone.
His son is the last known person to have seen him alive during a visit to his office the night before, from around 5:35 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
Last week, Oland testified he took a third trip to his father's office that night because he forgot to pick up an old camp logbook that belonged to his uncle Jack Connell, who was visiting from Toronto and was going to be heading home soon.
Connell testified he had loaned the logbook to Richard Oland in 2010 to scan.
The elder Oland was "obsessive" about genealogy, he said, and the logbook was a "time capsule" of all the people who had visited the Long Island camp, built in 1914 by Oland's maternal grandfather Harry Frank and Connell's grandfather Jack Fairweather.
In late June 2011, Connell was visiting from Toronto for a cousin's 100th birthday party when a few people asked about the logbook, he said. Connell asked his sister Connie to call her husband's secretary to see about getting the logbook back.
"Dick had had it for a year at this point," said Connell.
It turned out the logbook had been misplaced, he said.
"I was a bit pissed off."
The logbook was subsequently located and on July 6 around 7:30 p.m. or 7:45 p.m. Dennis Oland called to tell Connell he had picked up the logbook and would drop it at his parents' house for him the next morning.
The book was left on a radiator just inside the door, said Connell.
The logbook tested negative for blood, the retrial has heard. The Crown alleges Oland removed the logbook from the office before he went back the third time to kill his father.
Crown prosecutor Derek Weaver opted not to cross-examine Connell.
Site visit not evidence
Earlier in the retrial, defence lawyers had applied for the court visit the crime scene. They had argued photographs alone don't allow the court to fully assess the size of the office, the steepness of the stairs, the viability of the back door as a possible escape route of the killer or the blood spatter evidence.
The Crown took no position on the application, and the judge exercised his discretion to approve the request.
"I have no hesitation in concluding that the helpfulness of the view far outweighs any possible prejudicial effect," his six-page written ruling released on Tuesday states.
Morrison said there is judicial debate about whether such views constitute evidence. The prevailing view appears to be that it is not evidence but rather an aid to assessment of evidence, he said.
"I tend to agree with this view. However, it is not necessary in this case that I resolve the controversy" because the defence requested the view solely to assist the court, Morrison wrote.
"In this case, the view itself will not be evidence but only an aid to assessing the evidence heard at trial."
Among the dozen terms and conditions he laid out was one that barred lawyers and the accused from making any submissions or comments during the course of the visit.
The region's head sheriff, George Oram, chauffeured Morrison and the court stenographer to 52 Canterbury St. at about 1:30 p.m.
Morrison glanced across the street at Thandi restaurant before heading up the narrow staircase to the Far End Corporation, which underwent extensive renovations after the bloody killing.
Weaver and fellow Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot walked over from the nearby courthouse.
Oland, who was accompanied by two of his defence lawyers — Michael Lacy and James McConnell — showed little emotion before or after the office visit but did not shy from the numerous media cameras.
Still co-director of father's company
He is still co-director of Far End, according to the annual return, filed with Service New Brunswick's corporate registry on Jan. 24.
His father's longtime business associate Robert (Bob) McFadden is listed as the other co-director and president.
McFadden previously testified that he and Oland, who were executors and trustees of the will, appointed themselves directors and officers of Richard Oland's three companies dealing with investments and real estate after his death.
McFadden, who still works out of the Far End office, watched the site visit from down the street.
The Crown did not call any rebuttal evidence Tuesday.
The defence's written submissions are due April 23 and the Crown's by April 30.
Post-trial briefs 'monumental task'
Lead defence lawyer Alan Gold had initially requested the defence have until April 30 to file its post-trial brief, but the judge remarked that seemed "quite a ways out."
"I appreciate there's a lot of ground to cover, but surely a month or five weeks would be sufficient, would it not?"
Morrison noted his work of putting together a written decision begins when the lawyers' work ends.
"I would prefer not to be doing it in July, quite frankly," he said.
Lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot said he understood the proposed timeline was a bit later than what the judge expected, but "these are monumental tasks."
'Confusion' over possible bloody footprint
The judge asked the lawyers to address in their written submissions the evidence regarding a partial footwear impression in blood found at the crime scene.
"I still have a fair amount of confusion over how and when" it was discovered, said Morrison.
"Perhaps it will become clear as I begin to do a detailed review of the evidence, but at this point, it's the one aspect of the evidence that I had a little bit of difficulty grasping."
Morrison also instructed the lawyers to put together an agreed chronology of events, but Veniot requested each party be allowed to submit its own. He said it could take time to reach agreements on disputed details, and he's concerned "time spent at that might take away from the time we should be doing something else."
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During Oland's first trial in 2015, the defence had intended to call his uncle, mother, wife Lisa Andrik-Oland, sister Jacqueline Walsh and friend Mary Beth Watt to testify on his behalf, but then abruptly closed its case following his testimony.
Connell was the only relative or friend to testify at the retrial.
Last Friday, the defence and Crown submitted an agreed statement of fact regarding Mary Beth Watt, who co-owned the sailboat Loki with Oland's wife. The agreed statement, entered in lieu of Watt testifying, indicates she spoke to Oland on the night his father was killed.
Watt had taken some friends out on the boat on July 6, 2011, when she experienced trouble with the throttle. She called Oland for help around 1:45 p.m., and he gave her advice on how to fix the problem, according to the statement.
At about 9:20 p.m., Oland called Watt and left a message, asking how she had made out with the boat. Watt called Oland back around 9:40 p.m. and they further discussed the issue. Oland told her he would go to the Loki and try a new idea he had for fixing the problem, the court document states.
On July 17, when Watt and her husband had a social visit with Oland and his wife, Oland discussed materials he had obtained from various stores on July 7 to fix the throttle, as well as a sail cover he picked up that day, which turned out not to fit properly.