Dennis Oland murder trial hears of challenges protecting bloody scene
WARNING: This story contains graphic material that some readers may find disturbing
The head of the Saint John Police Force's forensic unit testified Thursday at Dennis Oland's murder trial about the difficulties he faced in trying to preserve the bloody crime scene, which several people entered, including a couple of civilians, fellow officers, paramedics and funeral home employees.
Richard Oland suffered a "large amount of trauma" to his head and neck, said Sgt. Mark Smith.
The Crown has said he was killed "in a rage," suffering 40 sharp and blunt force injuries to his head and neck and six defensive wounds to his hands. No weapon was ever found.
Dennis Oland, 47, who was the last known person to see his father alive at the office the night before, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
"There was a piece of skull in that area," said Smith, as he led the jury through some of the 119 photos of the crime scene submitted into evidence, and "what appears to be tissue and blood and hair on the back of his sweater."
There were also "hundreds of [blood] spatter stains radiating around the main pool" of blood — on Oland's desk, his computer, his lamp, his chair, some filing cabinets, and on an empty pizza box in the garbage can.
Smith said he was not an expert in blood spatter analysis at the time and the closest one available would have been at the RCMP lab in Halifax. It was two days later when his supervisor told him one would be made available, he said.
He also noted two blood transfer stains on the floor, each measuring about about four centimetres by 1.5 centimetres, when he first entered the office around 10 a.m., but did not offer any theory or explanation as to who or what may have tracked that blood.
The civilians — Oland's secretary, Maureen Adamson, who discovered the body, and Preston Chiasson, who was downstairs at the Printing Plus shop when Adamson came running in for help — both previously testified they didn't go very far into the office and carefully retraced their steps without touching anything.
Both officers said the same, although Const. Duane Squires later helped remove the body and wound up having to stand right in the pool of blood. He said he was wearing gloves and protective booties at the time.
The then-cadet, Trinda (Fanjoy) McAlduff, said she did go "pretty far" into the office, but not to the point where she could have reached out and touched the body.
And paramedic Phil Comeau said he used his foot to touch Oland's thigh to determine if rigor mortis had set in and his "whole body" moved, confirming it had.
Smith was not wearing any protective gear himself when he first entered the office, but he left for about an hour to get some equipment from the police station and "suited up" in full protective gear, including a white coverall, gloves, booties and a mask.
The 27-year veteran said he didn't leave any instructions about protecting the scene when he left, but he expected it "would be maintained and nobody would go in" to minimize any contamination and destruction of possible evidence.
When he returned at 11:20 a.m, three officers were standing guard outside the office, he said.
Other officers were subsequently allowed to enter the office without protective gear to observe the body, but under Smith's supervision and following the same route he took, he said.
Smith moved Oland's body to check for a possible weapon, but only found the 69-year-old's eyeglasses underneath him.
He later helped plan the route for the funeral home employees to remove the body in a bid to minimize contamination of the scene.
"There was going to be some for sure," he said. "The scene too messy to avoid it."
Planned to test back door for evidence
Smith also testified about a door in the foyer outside Oland's second-floor office that led to an alleyway out back, almost at ground level because the building is on a hill.
He said he didn't touch the door because he wanted to swab the dead bolt and test for fingerprints.
But Const. Stephen Davidson, who had arrived at the scene before Smith, testified earlier Thursday that he had unlocked the door, looked outside and then locked it again.
Davidson also said he went out the door into the alleyway to look around, but could not recall if that was on July 7, or two days later when he returned to the crime scene.
One of the first officers to respond to the scene. Const. Don Shannon, previously testified that the door was closed when he arrived, but could not say if it was locked.
Other officers have previously testified that it was wide open later that day and remained open until at least the following morning.
Lead investigator new to major crime unit
Davidson told the court he had only joined the major crime unit three days before Oland's death and ended up taking charge of the case three months later when the lead investigator, Const. Rick Russell, retired.
He said he had been a police officer for about 12 years at that point, having worked in uniform patrol for about eight years, and then with the RCMP's specialized integrated proceeds of crime unit in Moncton for about another four.
But July 4, 2011 was his first official day with Saint John's major crime unit, he said. On July 7, shortly after 9 a.m., he and another constable were asked to respond to 52 Canterbury St., for a report of an unconscious male, not breathing.
He went mostly to observe his new unit in action, to "see how things work," he said.
However, it quickly became an all-hands-on-deck situation due to the "suspicious" nature of the death and Davidson was thrust into the investigation.
Dennis Oland gave statement
He ended up being the one to notify the family and to interview Dennis Oland and his sister, Jacqueline Walsh, he said.
Police had no suspects at the time, or any ideas about a possible murder weapon, he said.
Davidson said he only went far enough into Richard Oland's office to see his body lying face down in a pool of blood with "significant head trauma."
His focus was on the body, but he also noted a backpack on the floor, along with a set of keys and a folder that appeared to have fallen off the desk, scattering some papers, he said.
Davidson estimated he stayed in the Far End Corporation office less than a minute before retracing his steps without touching anything. He was not wearing any protective gear, such as latex gloves, or booties, he said.
Lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot plans to recall Davidson later in the trial to ask him about taking a statement from Dennis Oland.
The defence has chosen to wait until the end of Davidson's testimony to cross-examine him.
The trial resumes on Friday morning when Sgt. Mark Smith is expected to continue his testimony.