New Brunswick

Dennis Oland murder trial sees new Crown prosecutor appointed

The lead Crown prosecutor in the Dennis Oland murder trial has been replaced for personal health reasons, just weeks before the jury trial is scheduled to start, CBC News has learned.

Paul (P.J.) Veniot takes over for John Henheffer just weeks before trial is scheduled to start

Dennis Oland is scheduled to stand trial on Sept. 16 for second-degree murder in the 2011 death of his father, Richard Oland. (CBC)

The lead Crown prosecutor in the Dennis Oland murder trial has been replaced, just weeks before the jury trial is scheduled to start, CBC News has learned.

John Henheffer has been handling the file since at least November 2013, when Oland was charged with second-degree murder in the July 2011 death of his father, prominent Saint John businessman Richard Oland.

But Henheffer has had to step aside for personal health reasons, officials from the Office of the Attorney General said in an emailed statement late Wednesday afternoon.

Retired Crown prosecutor ​Paul (P.J.) Veniot has taken over, as of Tuesday.

"We can confirm that P.J. Veniot has joined the prosecution's team for the trial of R v Dennis Oland," the statement said.

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)
"The trial will continue as scheduled."

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Sept. 8 at Harbour Station. About 3,000 people have received summonses — 10 times the normal jury panel.

The trial itself is slated to start on Sept. 16 and is expected to last 65 days.

Gary Miller, one of Oland's defence lawyers, has previously referred to the Crown's file as "voluminous."

Veniot won't be alone, however. There are two other Crown prosecutors involved — Patrick Wilbur and Derek Weaver.

Oland, 46, is accused of killing his father, whose body was discovered in his uptown office on July 7, 2011.

Several pre-trial hearings have been held in recent months, including one on Wednesday, but details about them are subject to a publication ban.

Veteran prosecutor

Veniot, the former senior regional Crown prosecutor for northeastern New Brunswick, has handled other high-profile cases over the years, including the murder trial of Justin Bourque, who went on a shooting rampage in Moncton in June 2014, killing three Mounties and wounding two others.

Retired Crown prosecutor Paul (P.J.) Veniot has joined the prosecution's team for Dennis Oland's second-degree murder trial. (CBC)
Bourque, who pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years — the longest sentence in Canadian history, and the harshest since the death penalty was abolished.

Veniot was also the Crown prosecutor who recommended fisheries officers lay charges in 2011 against the brother of then-deputy premier Paul Robichaud, despite a directive that the case be dropped.

Veniot testified he also refused a request from the head of enforcement that he find a way to withdraw the charges against Donat Robichaud after they'd been laid.

Robichaud wound up pleading guilty in April 2012 to one charge of violating the Aquaculture Act at his oyster farm, was ordered to pay a $480 fine and a 20 per cent victim surcharge.

Veniot also served as counsel to the coroner during the inquest into the death of Serena Perry.

Perry, 22, was an involuntary psychiatric patient at the Saint John Regional Hospital when her body was discovered on Feb. 14, 2012, in the hospital's amphitheatre, which is located in another section of the facility.

No charges were ever laid in the case, but the coroner's jury deemed her death a homicide and made 11 recommendations to help prevent other similar deaths.

Among them was that New Brunswick follow the lead of several other provinces and introduce community treatment order legislation.

Oland continues to live in the community under several conditions, pending his trial. His extended family has stood by him from the beginning, maintaining his innocence.