Lead investigator grilled at Dennis Oland trial about mystery sticky notes, other leads

Dennis Oland's murder retrial heard new details Thursday about evidence found in a wooded area on Saint John's west side more than a month after his father Richard Oland was killed.

Dennis Oland, 50, is being retried for 2nd-degree murder in 2011 death of his multimillionaire father Richard

More than seven years after Richard Oland was killed, a Saint John courtroom heard for the first time about sticky notes that were turned into police as part of the investigation. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

Dennis Oland's retrial on a charge of second-degree murder heard new details Thursday about evidence found in a wooded area on Saint John's west side more than a month after his father Richard Oland was killed.

A man called police on Aug. 24, 2011, about some pieces of paper he found beside his residence with the victim's nickname, Dick, written on them.

The yellow sticky notes also included the names of his father, Philip Oland, brother Derek Oland, the executive chairman of Moosehead Breweries, and his great-great-grandmother Susannah Oland, the matriarch of the beer-making family, the courtroom heard.

Defence lawyer Alan Gold raised the issue during his pointed cross-examination of lead investigator Const. Stephen Davidson about the adequacy of the Saint John Police Force's homicide investigation.

Davidson met with the man and searched the property for any other evidence but said he didn't test the weathered notes for fingerprints because he didn't see the value, given their deteriorated condition.

Gold suggested a hair was stuck to one of the notes and asked Davidson it was ever forensically tested. Davidson argued it wasn't clear it if was hair or lint, but said it wasn't sent for testing.

He acknowledged he didn't show the papers to the victim's secretary, Maureen Adamson, or business associate Robert McFadden to see if they recognized the handwriting or to ask if the multimillionaire used that type of sticky notes in his daily work.

"There was absolutely no followup to these pieces of papers that were found, correct?" asked Gold.

"Correct," replied Davidson.

Const. Stephen Davidson had been a police officer for about 12 years when he became the lead investigator on the Oland case in October 2011. But he was still new to the major crime unit with only three months on the job, the court has heard. (CBC)

The four notes, which were entered into evidence, include a jumble of scribblings, including "1865 Susannah Old [sic] sailed from England to NS with her recipe," "Cirque du Soleil," "alcoholic," "Transfer $429," and "Jon insured."

The names of "policemen" Mike, Stephen, and Mark are also listed.

Oland, 50, is being retried for second-degree murder in the death of his father. He was the last person known to have seen Richard Oland alive, during a visit to his father at his Canterbury Street office on the evening of July 6, 2011.

The body of the 69-year-old was discovered in the office the next morning, face down in a pool of blood, with 45 sharp- and blunt-force injuries to his head, neck and hands.

A jury found Oland guilty in December 2015, but the New Brunswick 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.

The retrial, which began on Nov. 21, is adjourned for the holidays until Jan. 7 at 9:30 a.m. It's expected to last four months.

Report of 'loud shouting'

Toronto-based lawyer Alan Gold is the lead of Dennis Oland's three-member defence team. (CBC)

Gold spent most of Thursday going through a laundry list of things police failed to do in the investigation and challenging what steps they did take.

He argued police didn't follow up on possible leads and didn't follow basic police academy training at the scene.

When police canvassed the area on July 8, 2011, a woman told them she had heard "loud yelling" the night Oland was killed. She said she heard the noise around 7:30 p.m., while walking on Princess Street, between Canterbury and Germain streets, said Gold.

But police did not follow up with her until Sept. 21, 2017 and never conducted a formal interview with her, he said. Instead, Davidson got a statement from her via email on Oct. 16, 2017.

"The point of canvassing was to see if people saw or heard anything relevant to the beating death of Richard Oland, right? Right?" asked Gold.

Davidson agreed.

Note from mistress never found

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)
The court also heard that the victim's iPhone 4 might not have been the only thing that went missing from his office. Gold asked Davidson about a note from Oland's mistress, Diana Sedlacek.

The note was referred to in a text message from Sedlacek to Oland on the day he was killed, around 9:08 a.m. "Did Zu find note? — re Our Trip."

Police never found the note, said Davidson. He confirmed police didn't take an inventory of the blood-spattered papers found on or around the victim's desk before releasing the scene back to the landlord.

'Have I been watching too much CSI?'

Officers didn't treat the foyer or exit door outside the victim's bloody office as part of the crime scene to prevent contamination of any evidence, Gold said.

They didn't examine the office floor where his bludgeoned body was found splayed, or the office door the killer would have had to walk through, closely enough for evidence, he argued.

"Have I been watching too much CSI?" Gold asked Davidson. "Is that not what you're supposed to do at a crime scene — to examine it as carefully as possible looking for trace evidence? Is that not what you're supposed to do?"

"Yes," replied Davidson.

Gold compared the crime scene search with the examination of the brown sports jacket Oland was wearing when he visited his father. It was scrutinized "millimetre by millimetre," he said.

The jacket was found to have four areas of blood on it and DNA matching the victim's profile, the Crown has said.

Richard Oland's blunt force injuries had a faint cross-hatch pattern in them, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy testified. (DIY)

Police also didn't test their theory that a drywall hammer may have been the weapon used to inflict the victim's wounds, said Gold.

They never used clay to try to replicate the circular injuries that had a cross-hatch pattern in them, for example, or visit construction sites to determine how prevalent the tools are or who has them, he said.

"Anybody could have them," said Davidson.

"But it's almost as if unless you're guaranteed success in your investigation you don't bother investigating," said Gold. "You don't know what information you're going to receive until you ask it, do you?"

"That's right," the officer replied, maintaining an even tone through the barrage of questions.

The defence argues police should have treated the foyer and exit door as part of the crime scene. (Court exhibit)

Davidson was new to the major crime unit when police were called to 52 Canterbury St. on the morning of July 7, 2011, the court has heard.

He was one of the first officers on the scene and testified earlier in the trial that he unlocked and opened the exit door in the foyer, which was never tested for forensic evidence because it had been contaminated.

"You didn't follow the rules at this crime scene, did you?" asked Gold, referring to protecting it from contamination.

Davidson said he was careful not to touch anything in the office and retraced his steps back out to the foyer. He did not consider the back door part of the crime scene, he said.

"Right or wrong, I opened it."

"It wasn't 'right or wrong,' it was wrong," Gold snapped.

"Yes," Davidson agreed.

"You wouldn't do that today, would you?" Gold asked.

"No," the officer replied.

Dennis Oland told police he stopped at Renforth Wharf on his way home from visiting his father on July 6, 2011, to see if his children were there swimming. (CBC)

The defence had previously advised the court that the quality of the Saint John Police Force's investigation will be a major issue in Oland's defence at his second-degree murder retrial.

In pre-trial documents, the defence said they intend to argue "that the [Saint John Police Force's] investigation into the homicide of Richard Oland was inadequate and will also seek to impugn the conduct and credibility of various SJPF officers involved in the investigation."

It came up again on Wednesday during Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot's direct examination of Davidson about some security video from Thandi's restaurant, located across the street from the victim's office, from the day of the killing.

When Veniot used a defence exhibit from the first trial to help Davidson describe the location of the two cameras and their coverage areas, Gold stood to address the court.

"Just to be clear, Justice, we produced this,' he said, referring to the aerial photo with shaded areas. "This was not part of the police investigation. This isn't something the officer did.

"As you know, the quality of the police investigation is going to be an issue in this case, so I just want to be clear what you're seeing there and the officer's corresponding oral testimony is defence work product."