New Brunswick

Oland murder trial hears questions about door leading to alleyway

Dennis Oland's defence team continued to raise questions Thursday about the Saint John Police Force's investigation into his father's murder in July 2011.

Defence lawyer Alan Gold said door to back alleyway would have been the 'preferred exit route' for a killer

Four days after Richard Oland's bludgeoned body was discovered in his uptown Saint John office, a door that led to a back alleyway was open, Dennis Oland's second-degree murder trial heard on Thursday.

Const. Don Shannon, who was one of the first officers to respond to the 911 call to 52 Canterbury St., on the morning of July 7, 2011, testified that the door had been closed at that time.

Under cross examination, Shannon said he did not check the door, which was located on the second-floor from the front of the building, but which exited at almost ground level out back because it's built on a hill.

He didn't know if the door was locked, he said.

But when Shannon returned on July 11, 2011, to guard the crime scene, the door was open, he said.

Dennis Oland, 46, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the 2011 death of his father, prominent businessman Richard Oland. (CBC)
Earlier this week, defence Alan Gold suggested to the court that door would have been the "preferred exit route" for the killer because it was the "nearest, more surreptitious, most hidden exit route."

It's not yet clear who opened the door or when.

Const. Shanda Weir told the courtroom Thursday the door was open when she went upstairs to guard Oland's Far End Corporation office on July 7, around 2:45 p.m. She could see a canine officer outside the door, she said.

The door was open the entire time she was there, she said.

Const. Don Shannon, who was one of the first officers to respond to the crime scene on July 7, 2011, testified at the murder trial on Thursday. (CBC)
Const. Ben MacLeod, who relieved Weir in securing the scene at around 6:30 p.m., said the door remained open throughout the hot evening and into the following morning.

Const. Duane Squires previously testified that he could not recall whether any officers checked the door in question on the day the prominent businessman's body was found lying face down in a large pool of blood.

Oland, 69, had suffered 40 sharp- and blunt-force injuries to his head and neck, and six defensive wounds to his hands, the court has heard.

His only son, Dennis Oland, 46, who was the last known person to see him alive during a meeting the night before, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)
Two funeral home employees, who transported Richard Oland's body to the morgue, testified under cross-examination Thursday that police had not mentioned the back exit to them.

Adam Holly and Sharlene MacDonald both said it would have been much easier to manoeuvre the stretcher with Oland's body on it out through the back door and down a couple of steps, than down the steep, narrow staircase they used at the front of the building.

Holly said two police officers placed Oland's body in a body bag and, due to the severity of the injuries to his head, he was placed face-down on the stretcher, which was "not common."

Delayed police statements

MacDonald, who also embalmed Oland's body before his funeral, said she wasn't interviewed by police about her role in the case until some time in 2014. She agreed under questioning by Gold that it would have been easier to remember details earlier.

The two paramedics who responded to crime scene also revealed long delays before they provided police statements.

Phil Comeau and Chris Wall both said that they were not contacted by police until Nov. 1, 2012 — about a year-and-a-half after the event.

Comeau, who estimated he had been to about 100 crime scenes before in his 23-year career, said he is normally contacted sooner, while his memory is still fresh.

'Odour of death'

The paramedics had been sitting in their ambulance on Germain Street, drinking coffee, when the 911 call to Oland's nearby office came in.

Wall said is was a "Code 2 response: gunshot, penetrating and stab trauma."

Paramedics Chris Wall and Phil Comeau (CBC)
They were on the scene within minutes, but didn't know exactly what they were dealing with and weren't sure what equipment to bring up.

Comeau said a female cadet who was upstairs told them to "bring everything."

But then Squires told them they didn't need to bring anything; just to come up, he said.

As he entered Oland's office, Comeau said he noticed "the odour of death."

"It kind of lingers in the air, stays with you for a couple of hours," he said.

It appeared he had injuries incompatible with life.- Phil Comeau, paramedic

And when he saw Oland's body, "it appeared he had injuries incompatible with life," so he checked for rigor mortis by placing his foot on Oland's right thigh.

"When the whole body moves, that's rigor," he said.

Comeau deemed the "time of no resuscitation" at 9:01 a.m., and he and his partner both left the office, being careful not to touch anything or disturb the crime scene.

Wall, who had only been a paramedic for about 11 months at that time, estimated he had been to about 10 crime scenes before, but none "like that."

He said the odour in the office was from the large pool of dried blood. "I truly don't know how to describe the smell."

Search for weapon

No weapon was ever found.

Const. Don Shannon said he was among those who participated in an "article search" during the afternoon of July 7.

He said he searched about an hour for anything out of the ordinary that might have been relevant to the case, such as a possible weapon, blood and clothing.

He checked parking lots, grassy areas, under cars parked along the street, as well as a "big pile of concrete debris" at a construction site, about one block over.

Shannon could not recall whether Canterbury Street was blocked to traffic between Princess and Duke streets due to the construction, but said there was no traffic impeding his search.

The judge and jury trial resumes on Friday at 9:30 a.m. It's scheduled to run until Dec. 18.