New Brunswick

Police waited over a year to interview paramedics, Oland murder trial hears

Saint John police waited nearly 16 months to interview the two paramedics who responded to the 911 call about Richard Oland's homicide and 32 months to interview the two funeral employees who helped remove the body from the crime scene, the murder retrial heard on Wednesday.

Funeral home employees who helped remove Richard Oland's body not questioned for 32 months

Veteran paramedic Phil Comeau said patient care is always the priority, but paramedics are trained to avoid disturbing a crime scene. (CBC)

Saint John police waited nearly 16 months to interview the two paramedics who responded to the 911 call about Richard Oland's homicide and 32 months to interview the two funeral employees who helped remove the body from the crime scene, the murder retrial heard Wednesday.

Dennis Oland's defence lawyer James McConnell raised the timing of the police interviews during cross-examination of Crown witnesses.

Paramedic Phil Comeau, who has attended about 75 to 100 crime scenes during his 26-year career, admitted he was surprised it took so long for police to take his statement.

Normally it happens much sooner, he said.

Comeau and his colleague Chris Wall were called to the victim's office at 52 Canterbury St., on July 7, 2011, shortly before 9 a.m. Police didn't interview them until Nov. 1, 2012, the courtroom heard.

Wall agreed with the defence lawyer's suggestion his memory of the crime scene, the layout of the office, and the location of the body was "pretty vague" by the time police spoke to him.

Funeral home directors Sharlene MacDonald and Adam Holly both testified they gave their police statements in March 2014.

McConnell asked if police ever offered any explanation for the delay.

"No," said Holly.

Dennis Oland has pleaded not guilty in his father's bludgeoning death more than seven years ago. (CBC)

Oland, 50, is being retried for second-degree murder in the death of his multimillionaire father, who was found face down in a pool of blood. The 69-year-old businessman suffered more than 40 blows to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.

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

The paramedics described for the court Wednesday what they found when they arrived at the scene.

'The smell of death'

Comeau said he was struck by a familiar odour as they climbed the staircase to the victim's second-floor office.

"I call it the smell of death," he said. "It stays with you for a couple of hours. It's something that hits you in the face and you know it's there."

The extent of the victim's injuries and amount of pooled, dried blood confirmed his suspicions, he said. He knew there was nothing they could do, other than confirm he was dead by checking for rigor mortis — a stiffening of the limbs caused by chemical changes in the muscles after death.

"That's incompatible with life, so that's all I needed to do," he said.

Comeau put his foot on the "patient's" leg and the whole body moved, indicating he had been dead for some time.

Paramedic Chris Wall said the odour of death is difficult to describe. In school, they're taught they'll know the smell when they encounter it, he said. (CBC)

Realizing it was a potential crime scene, Comeau said he left the office the same way he went in, being careful not to touch anything. 

"There was [blood] spatter pretty well everywhere," he said.

Comeau estimated he was in the office only 30 seconds. "Less than a minute for sure."

Police never asked to see his footwear, he said.

Wall, who was still relatively new to the job, said he was in shock when they left the office. It was the first time he had seen "that kind of thing," he said.

He had let Comeau take the lead, but followed close behind. He couldn't recall if he went to the left or right of a table to approach the body but said he never got close enough to touch the body.

He, too, retraced his steps out of the office, he said.

"I didn't want to step on anything that I shouldn't have, I didn't want to bump into anything that I shouldn't have."

Wall estimated they were in the office "a minute and a half, maybe two minutes, tops."

Asked whether he had stepped in the "extreme amount" of blood he described seeing, Wall said he would have done whatever he could to avoid doing so but couldn't be certain he didn't.

He did not check his footwear for blood afterward and police never asked to inspect his footwear, he said.

No protective gear

The homicide scene was a first for both funeral home employees. Neither of them wore protective booties, but the blood was "easily avoidable," MacDonald said.

The funeral home provides full protective gear — coveralls, shoe covers and masks — but they didn't wear them that day and police didn't ask them to, the court heard.

Normally, they would only don the full gear in infectious disease situations or for a "really messy death, where there's, like, liquid," said MacDonald.

If she had to do it over again, she probably would suit up, she said. "But at the time, with it having been dried blood, we didn't see much of a need."

They both wore latex gloves. During Oland's first trial in 2015, MacDonald testified she later discovered some blood on her palms. She had turned the gloves inside out and placed them in her pocket when they left the crime scene and later disposed of them at the morgue, she said.

The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday is 9:30 a.m. with testimony from the head of the Saint John Police Force's forensic identification section, Sgt. Mark Smith.

New info about 'stomps' heard coming from office

On Tuesday, the court heard Oland's defence team has new information related to the statement of a man who believes he heard Richard Oland being killed in his Saint John office at a time the accused was in Rothesay.

Defence lawyer Michael Lacy didn't say what the information is, but its existence was revealed as he cross-examined Const. Don Shannon, one of the first officers to arrive at 52 Canterbury St., after the victim's body was discovered.

Shannon took some preliminary statements from potential witnesses at the scene that morning, including Anthony Shaw, who told the officer he had been working downstairs at the Printing Plus office the night before when he heard five or six loud "stomps" coming from the victim's second-floor office around 8 p.m.

The defence has already submitted a timestamped security video that shows Dennis Oland casually shopping at a drug store and country market with his wife around 7:38 p.m. in Rothesay, about a 15 or 20 minute drive away.

Const. Don Shannon conducted some preliminary interviews with witnesses at the scene on the morning of July 7, 2011, the trial heard Tuesday. (Catherine Allard/Radio-Canada)

Lacy was questioning Shannon about the notes he took regarding his conversation with Shaw — whether he had carefully documented the relevant times and Shaw's certainty, whether he realized the information could be important to the police investigation — when Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot stood to object.

Veniot raised concerns about the defence using the officer's testimony about his notes for the truth of their contents.

"If Mr. Shaw [testifies to] something different than what [Shannon] has in his notes, it doesn't necessarily mean that this officer is correct because it's a question of his note taking," he said.

The court doesn't have access to all of the information, including new disclosure and new issues surrounding this particular issue, which makes this very relevant.- Michael Lacy, defence lawyer

Lacy argued it was important to question the officer about the circumstances surrounding the taking of the statement.

"The court doesn't have access to all of the information, including new disclosure and new issues surrounding this particular issue, which makes this very relevant," he told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison.

What the police knew, when they knew it and what they did with the information is also important in the case, he said, noting the defence has already indicated the nature of police conduct is something that's "going to be explored."

The judge agreed to allow Lacy's line of questioning to continue.

"I believe it's legitimate to explore with this witness how he took the notes, the care or lack thereof he took in making those notes, and what the police knew or didn't know at particular times," said Morrison, describing the issues as relevant.

According to the officer's notes, Shaw said he and the building owner John Ainsworth were in the Printing Plus office from around 6 p.m. until 9:20 p.m. He said he didn't hear anything else before or after the noises around 8 p.m.

"In terms of the information Shaw gave you, he was very clear about what he was telling you?" asked Lacy.

"Yes, he was," replied Shannon.

Ainsworth testified at Oland's first trial in 2015 that the "thumping" noises he heard coming from the office could have been anywhere between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Oland was the last known person to see his father alive when he stopped by his office unannounced around 5:35 p.m. that night, just as Oland's secretary was leaving for the day.

Oland told police he left the office around 6:30 p.m. and his father was still alive.