New Brunswick

Crown will not appeal Dennis Oland's murder acquittal in 2011 death of father

Public Prosecution Services will not appeal Dennis Oland's second-degree murder acquittal in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, multimillionaire Richard Oland, in Saint John.

Review of judge's not guilty verdict finds no available grounds for appeal, says Public Prosecution Services

Dennis Oland, 51, leaving the law courts in Saint John with his family after he was found not guilty July 19 of murdering his father. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Public Prosecution Services will not appeal Dennis Oland's second-degree murder acquittal in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, multimillionaire Richard Oland, in Saint John.

And Saint John Police have no plans to resume the homicide investigation, according to the chief.

The decisions, announced Tuesday, mark the end of a legal saga that spanned eight years, included three trials and cost New Brunswick taxpayers more than $1.5 million.

New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison found Oland, 51, not guilty on July 19.

The 'reasonableness' of an acquittal is not an available ground of appeal for the Crown.- Public Prosecution Services

He said there was "much to implicate" Oland in the brutal killing, but there were "too many missing pieces" in the Crown's case to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Public Prosecution Services has carefully reviewed Morrison's 146-page decision, according to a statement posted on the government's website.

"After having reviewed and assessed both the policy and legal considerations … Public Prosecution Services has determined that there is no basis upon which the Crown can appeal the acquittal of Dennis Oland," reads the statement.

Prosecutors found Morrison was impacted by the "alibi-like" evidence of the estimated time two men heard thumping noises coming from his Saint John office on the night he was killed.

Lead defence lawyer Alan Gold, right, joined by fellow lawyers Michael Lacy, left, and James McConnell following Oland's acquittal July 19, said the Crown's decision not to appeal was 'quite expected.' (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Oland was seen on security video shopping in Rothesay — about a 20-minute drive northeast — at around the same time.

"There was no error of law relating to this evidence nor is there a lawful basis to contest the reasonableness of Justice Morrison's assessment of the Crown time-of-death evidence linking Dennis Oland as the murderer," Public Prosecutions said.

"The 'reasonableness' of an acquittal is not an available ground of appeal for the Crown. Thus, Justice Morrison's finding of reasonable doubt related to the alibi-like evidence and the resulting acquittal in this case are unassailable by the Crown."

'Only possible decision'

Oland and his family are "obviously very happy with the decision," family lawyer Bill Teed said in an emailed statement.

"In our opinion, the Crown could not have come to any other conclusion," he said.

Oland's lead defence lawyer, Alan Gold, also said it was the prosecution's "only possible decision as a matter of law and quite expected." He described Morrison's ruling as "legally impeccable."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison, who took 10 weeks to deliberate, said in his oral decision that more than suspicion is needed to convict someone of murder. (CBC)

"Perhaps now the police investigation to actually solve the case if that is possible will move forward," the Toronto-based lawyer said in an email.

Saint John Police Force Chief Bruce Connell told CBC News that as the court process has run its course, the file is no longer an active investigation.

"However, as in all cases, the Saint John Police Force will consider any additional information or evidence that comes to our attention," he said. 

Connell, who said his office was only advised of the Crown's early afternoon announcement late Tuesday, noted the role of police is to complete an investigation and then turn the file over to the Crown's office.

It's up to the Crown to decide if there's sufficient evidence to warrant a charge, which he said was done with the Oland case.

"The Saint John Police Force respects the decision of M. Justice Morrison who, after weighing all of the evidence, was not satisfied that the Crown had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. 

Police 'failings and inadequacies'

Oland's three-member defence team argued at trial that police wrongly focused their investigation on him within hours of his father's body being discovered and demonstrated "tunnel vision."

The judge found there were "numerous shortcomings, failings and inadequacies" in the way police handled the crime scene, but they did not "weigh heavily in the final determination of this case."

The New Brunswick Police Commission has not yet decided whether it will proceed with the planned professional conduct review of the force's handling of the homicide investigation, said executive director Jennifer Smith.

"We are determining how to proceed in the public interest," she said following the Crown's announcement. Part of that determination, she said, will be the consideration of the pending findings and recommendations of an independent review of the commission itself.

Saint John Police Force Chief Bruce Connell, pictured here in 2010 when he was appointed deputy chief, said the Richard Oland homicide file is 'no longer an active investigation.' (Saint John Police Force)

The New Brunswick Department of Public Safety hired retired RCMP assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil in May to review the policies, practices and procedures of the police watchdog.

MacNeil's report is expected to be finalized "in the coming weeks" and will be made public, a department spokesperson has said.

"This is an active, ongoing, important file for the commission, and we want to carefully assess all relevant info," said Smith.

Oland's retrial has cost New Brunswick taxpayers nearly $930,000, with additional expenses expected, figures obtained by CBC News reveal. His first trial in 2015 and subsequent appeal cost more than $637,000.

Richard Oland, 69, of the prominent Moosehead Breweries family, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)

The aim of any trial is to seek and ascertain the truth, said Public Prosecution Services, citing case law.

"This search for truth is qualified, however, by other laudable principles upon which our system is based: the presumption of innocence, the principle of reasonable doubt, fair process, the prohibition against double jeopardy, among many.

"Public Prosecution Services pursues the truth in every trial and appeal process but we do so simultaneously as guardians of these equally important principles upon which our system is based," the statement said.

"Despite the search for the truth in the trial, Justice Morrison could not be certain that Dennis Oland murdered Richard Oland. The resulting acquittal, resting on this finding of reasonable doubt, is the equivalent of a finding of 'legal' innocence."

Anthony Shaw and John Ainsworth, who were working at Printing Plus on the evening of July 6, 2011, believe they heard Richard Oland being killed in his office upstairs. (CBC)

The body of Richard Oland, of the prominent Moosehead Breweries family, was discovered face down in a pool of blood in his uptown Saint John investment firm office on the morning of July 7, 2011.

The 69-year-old had suffered 45 sharp-and blunt-force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found, and the only confirmed item that disappeared from the crime scene was the victim's cellphone.

His son, who was the last known person to see him alive when he visited him at his office the night before, was charged with second-degree murder in November 2013.

A key piece of evidence in the Crown's case against him was the brown sports jacket he wore when he visited his father. It was later found to have four small bloodstains on it and DNA matching his father's profile.

The brown sports jacket Dennis Oland wore when he visited his father on the night he was killed was later found to have four small bloodstains on it and DNA matching his father's profile. (Court exhibit)

A jury found Oland guilty in December 2015, and 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. Oland was released on bail the following day.

He was scheduled to be tried by judge and jury on Nov. 20, 2018, but a mistrial was declared because a Saint John police officer conducted "improper" background checks on prospective jurors and "irreparably" tainted jury selection.

Morrison discharged the jury and presided over a new trial alone.

Oland, a married father of four, has maintained his innocence from the beginning, and members of his extended family have stood by him.

Public Prosecution Services had until Aug. 19 to file an appeal.

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