New Brunswick

Police suffered from 'tunnel vision' when investigating Dennis Oland, defence says

Saint John police had such severe "tunnel vision" in believing Dennis Oland killed his father, they suffered from a "psychological phenomenon" that caused them to ignore or give "short shrift" to any evidence contrary to their theory, the defence argued during his murder retrial Wednesday.

Richard Oland was found dead in his Saint John office in July 2011

Dennis Oland, 50, has been on bail, living in the community under conditions, since October 2016, when the Court of Appeal set aside his murder conviction and ordered a new trial. (CBC)

Saint John police had such severe "tunnel vision" in believing Dennis Oland killed his father, they suffered from a "psychological phenomenon" that caused them to ignore or give "short shrift" to any evidence contrary to their theory, the defence argued during his murder retrial Wednesday.

Lawyer Alan Gold told the Saint John courtroom the defence intends to present evidence the Oland family offered a reward two months after Richard Oland was killed for information leading to the arrest of his killer.

But the response of then-chief Bill Reid was: "It would not be proper for us to issue this reward because … we know Dennis did it," Gold alleged.

"We would argue that's an example of tunnel vision," he said.

Another example, according to the defence, is how police dealt with a statement from Saint John Liberal MLA Gerry Lowe about seeing someone leave the victim's office building possibly on the night he was killed.

Lowe told police he was across the street at Thandi restaurant on either July 6, 2011, or July 5, 2011, some time after 7:30 p.m., when he saw someone exit 52 Canterbury St.

Police believe Richard Oland was killed on July 6. His son was the last known person to see him alive when he visited him at his office that night. He left around 6:30 p.m. and was captured on security video across town in Rothesay around 7:30 p.m., shopping with his wife.

The body of the 69-year-old multimillionaire was discovered in the 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.

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

Retired constable Keith Copeland, left, co-ordinated the external portion of a search at Dennis Oland's Rothesay home on July 14, 2011. (CBC)

Retired constable Keith Copeland testified Wednesday he interviewed Lowe on July 8 but didn't attempt to clarify whether he saw someone exiting the building on July 5 or July 6.

He didn't ask, for example, if Lowe had been at Thandi's both nights, if anybody was with him, which waiters or bartenders served him, or whether he paid by credit card — all questions he acknowledged under cross-examination by defence lawyer Michael Lacy might have helped clarify the day.

"To be honest, that didn't matter to me at the time. I was more interested in the description of the person he may have seen," Copeland said.

"Sir, isn't it obvious that if it turned out someone had witnessed someone leaving 52 Canterbury Street after 7:30 p.m. on July 6, 2011, that means Dennis Oland wasn't the last person to leave that address before Richard Oland was discovered dead?" asked Lacy.

"My intention was to get a description of any person he may have seen leaving 52 Canterbury Street. … The confusion about which day he was there was not a concern of mine at that time," replied Copeland.

Lacy then presented the court with time-stamped security video showing Lowe entering Thandi's on July 6, 2011, at 7:40 p.m. and exiting at 8:35 p.m.

Gold said although investigators believed the killer would have had a significant amount of blood on him or her, they were able to "ignore the absence of substantial spatter" on the brown sports jacket Oland was wearing when he visited his father on the night he was killed.

They "suffered from what we call 'disconfirmation bias,'" he argued. "A psychologist would understand this. They already had their theory and any evidence inconsistent with the theory would receive short shrift," while evidence that supported it was "overvalued."

Gold suggested Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison will have to decide the relevance of police evidence against Oland in light of their "institutional perception."

Morrison described the argument as "novel."

Gold agreed, saying he doesn't have a "clear black and white authority" to cite.

The judge said the issue will require its own hearing within the next few weeks and asked both sides to prepare arguments. "If nothing else, it will be interesting," he said.

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

It could be June before a verdict is delivered in the case, the court heard on Wednesday.

Gold advised the court he expects the presentation of evidence to wrap up some time in March, as anticipated.

But the defence wants up to a month to prepare its written post-trial brief before making oral closing arguments, he said.

The judge said he suspects it will then take him "at least" a month to write his decision.

Wednesday marked Day 16 of the retrial, which started on Nov. 21 and is scheduled to last four months.

Lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot raised the issue of scheduling because he has another trial slated for a week in April. The judge said the court will work around it.

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