Dennis Oland not guilty of murder in retrial over 2011 death of multimillionaire father
'There is much to implicate' Oland but Crown did not prove case, N.B. judge says
Dennis Oland has been found not guilty of second-degree murder at his retrial in the death of his father Richard Oland, eight years to the month after the multimillionaire was bludgeoned to death in Saint John, N.B.
Justice Terrence Morrison of New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench delivered his 15-minute oral decision at the Law Courts building on Friday morning to gasps and a scattering of claps in the packed courtroom.
Morrison, who had been deliberating for 10 weeks, said more than suspicion is required to convict a person of murder. Probable guilt is not enough.
In a circumstantial case such as this, the pieces of the evidential puzzle must form a picture that is consistent with guilt — and only consistent with guilt, he said.
"There is much to implicate" Oland in the killing, said Morrison, citing as an example the four small bloodstains and DNA matching his father's profile found on the jacket Oland wore when he visited his father at his office on the evening of July 6, 2011 and became the last known person to see him alive.
The body of Richard Oland, 69, of the prominent Moosehead Breweries family, was discovered face down in a pool of blood in his uptown Saint John investment firm office the next morning.
There are too many missing puzzle pieces to form a coherent portrait of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.— Terrence Morrison, New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench justice
He had suffered 45 sharp-and blunt-force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.
Morrison also noted "some frailties" in Dennis Oland's testimony, which he said "tends to undermine his credibility."
"In light of those and the evidence as a whole, I cannot accept outright the accused's denial of guilt," he said.
"However, I am not confident that I can accept the Crown's version of events."
"In this case there are too many missing puzzle pieces to form a coherent portrait of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In short, I am not satisfied that the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Dennis Oland who killed Richard Oland."
Oland, 51, who sat with his defence team for the decision, immediately turned to lead defence lawyer Alan Gold and gave him a bear hug, then hugged lawyers Michael Lacy and James McConnell.
He wiped away tears and embraced his children, wife, mother, sister and other family members, then slowly made his way through the crowd of supporters, sharing more hugs, handshakes and pats on the back.
Oland declined to comment outside the courtroom. "No thank you," he told CBC News.
His maternal uncle, Jack Connell, was the only family member to comment, saying: "It's great."
Oland grinned as he left the courthouse a free man after eight years and two trials, clutching hands with his wife Lisa Andrik-Oland and daughter Hannah.
As they passed silently through the throng of reporters gripping microphones and cameras, a crowd of supporters erupted into applause.
One woman cheered, "It's over," and another said, "We're going to celebrate."
Oland and his family piled into a waiting SUV and were whisked away.
'Terrible, terrible crime'
At a news conference after the not guilty verdict came down, Oland's lawyer, Alan Gold, said it was an important day to "acknowledge the fact that Dennis did not kill his father."
He said public opinion polling commissioned by the defence showed 27 per cent of the 401 respondents in the Saint John area said they believe Oland is guilty.
"I sincerely hope that having heard the verdict of not guilty from a judge who looked carefully through all the evidence, who spent months considering whether the Crown could prove that Dennis was the killer and decided they could not, I hope those 27 per cent of the people will admit they were wrong.
"I hope that everybody in Saint John now understands and appreciates that Dennis Oland did not kill his father and understands the misery that he and his family and his friends and supporters have gone through through the last eight years."
Gold said he was uncomfortable with people congratulating him and saying it was a day to celebrate.
"Dennis lost his dad to a brutal murder," he stressed.
It will be a day to celebrate, said Gold, when "the actual perpetrators" of this "terrible, terrible crime" are finally caught and brought to justice.
Leave him in peace and let him come to the wonderful realization that it's finally over.— Alan Gold, Oland's defence lawyer
He said Saint John police wrongly focused their investigation on Oland and demonstrated "tunnel vision."
"The very same day that the body was found, before the police had even talked to Dennis, they were discussing putting 24 hours surveillance on Dennis, simply because he was the last known person to see his father."
"Based on a flawed investigation, they [police] never took their eyes off him."
Gold called on police to "start doing the investigation that should have been done eight years ago." If the local force won't then "perhaps some outside force should come in," he said.
Gold said Oland will spend quality time with family throughout Friday and mentally try to regroup. No one can truly understand what Oland has endured, living under suspicion for so long, he said. It's been "a very punishing" eight years emotionally and financially.
"Right now he's entitled to as much private time with his family," said Gold.
"Leave him in peace and let him come to the wonderful realization that it's finally over."
No decision on appeal
According to the Public Prosecution Services, there will be no immediate decision on whether there will be an appeal, since prosecutors need to "carefully study and review Mr. Justice Morrison's reasons for judgment.
"Public Prosecution Services has 30 days to file an appeal and no other comment will be made at this point," it said in a statement out of Fredericton.
Saint John police Chief Bruce Connell said only: "The Saint John Police Force respects the decision of Mr. Justice Morrison."
Lead investigator Const. Stephen Davidson, the head of the major crime unit Sgt. Jay Henderson, criminal investigations division acting Insp. David Brooker and head of the police union Const. Duane Squires, who were all at the back of the courtroom for the ruling, showed no emotion.
Dennis <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oland?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Oland</a> walks out of the courthouse a free man. Is whisked away to a waiting vehicle. <a href="https://t.co/965WGY4WUt">pic.twitter.com/965WGY4WUt</a>—@BJMCBC
For the retrial, which lasted 44 days and spanned four months, 61 witnesses testified and 309 pieces of evidence were submitted.
A key piece of evidence in the Crown's case was the brown sports jacket Oland wore when he visited his father. The defence argued the blood and DNA on the jacket was "innocent transfer" and could have predated the homicide.
The high-profile case has gripped the public's imagination from the beginning. It has been described as the O.J. Simpson case of the Maritimes, in reference to the former American football star who was found not guilty in 1995 of the killing of his wife.
People started lining up outside the courthouse Friday around 7:30 a.m. — about an hour before the doors opened and about two and a half hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin — hoping to get a seat.
Court staff set up overflow seating in an adjacent courtroom equipped with a closed circuit video system in anticipation of the large crowd of spectators. Each courtroom can accommodate about 125 people.
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Before delivering his oral summary of his 146-page decision, Morrison cautioned the public gallery that no outbursts would be tolerated, regardless of the outcome.
"If you are not confident that you can control yourself please leave the courtroom now. I think all of us want to avoid the unpleasantness of having the sheriffs intervene."
When a jury found Oland guilty at his first trial in December 2015, he collapsed into his chair and wailed uncontrollably. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
Oland served about 10 months before the New Brunswick Court of Appeal overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial, citing an error in the judge's instructions to the jury. He was released on bail the following day and has been living in the community under conditions since then.
Oland has maintained his innocence and members of his extended family have stood by him.
Read Justice Morrison's full written decision here: