New Brunswick

Dennis Oland's guilty verdict 'validation' for police, says chief

The new chief of the Saint John Police Force says the guilty verdict at Dennis Oland's second-degree murder trial in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father provides "a degree of validation" for the beleaguered force.
Dennis Oland, pictured here entering the courthouse with his wife Lisa, just before the jury delivered its guilty verdict, is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 11. (CBC)

The new chief of the Saint John Police Force says the guilty verdict at Dennis Oland's second-degree murder trial in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father provides "a degree of validation" for the beleaguered force.

"I want to state publicly that no winners emerge from such a tragic event. A man is deceased and his immediate and extended family remains devastated," Chief John Bates said in an emailed statement on Saturday, shortly after the jury delivered its unanimous verdict.
Saint John Police Force Chief John Bates says his faith in the integrity, effort, or investigative skills of his officers never waivered. (Twitter)

"As chief of police, I do take some solace in the fact that our investigative team and the force, as a whole, which have been under some intense scrutiny and assailed with criticism … will have realized a degree of validation," said Bates.

"Not for a second, did I waiver in my belief or faith in their integrity, effort, or investigative skills."

Bates said he will address criticisms of the murder investigation "in further detail at a later date."

The investigation dates back to July 7, 2011, when the body of prominent businessman Richard Oland was discovered in his investment firm office, lying face down in a large pool of blood.

The 69-year-old multimillionaire had suffered 45 sharp and blunt force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)
Dennis Oland, 47, who was the last known person to see his father alive during a meeting at his office the night before, was convicted on Saturday after a three-month trial and four days of deliberations by the jury.

Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, but parole eligibility can range between 10 and 25 years. Oland is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 11.

He was initially considered a witness by police, but was quickly deemed a suspect during his videotaped statement, the trial heard. He was not charged, however, until more than two years later.

Investigation challenged by defence

During the trial, Oland's defence team raised questions about the police investigation, including possible contamination of the crime scene.

The jury heard about officers failing to wear protective gloves and footwear coverings in the blood-spattered office, including one senior officer, who admitted he went in "out of curiousity."

Officers also used the washroom located outside the office for two days before it was tested for evidence, and opened the back door, which the defence described as being the "preferred exit route" for the killer, before it could be checked for fingerprints.

Dennis Oland's brown sports jacket, which had three small bloodstains on it and DNA that matched his father's profile, was a key piece of evidence in the Crown's case. (Court exhibit)
A key piece of evidence in the Crown's case against Oland — a blood-stained brown sports jacket — was also handled by the former lead investigator with his bare hands and rolled up into a 30 centimetre by 30 centimetre paper exhibit bag by another officer, the jury heard.

The jacket, which remained in the bag for four months before it was examined, was found to have three small bloodstains on it and the DNA extracted from those areas matched the victim's profile.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Walsh reviewed some of the evidence the jurors had heard about possible shortcomings in the police investigation during his lengthy instructions to them, including the fact that officers failed to ask the pathologist whether a drywall hammer was a possible weapon.

There were a lot of things we could have done better at the scene.- Glen McCloskey, deputy chief

Walsh described the case against Oland as being largely a circumstantial one and reminded the jurors it was up to the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt in order for them to convict.

It was the second time Walsh had instructed the jurors on evidence they had heard "suggesting the police investigation … was inadequate."

Earlier in the trial he had said: "It will be for you to determine whether evidence about the inadequacy of the police investigation alone, or along with other evidence, causes you to have a reasonable doubt about whether Dennis Oland committed the offence charged."

'No investigation is perfect'

Lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot downplayed any possible shortcomings in the investigation during his summation to the jury.

"No investigation is perfect," he had said. "Pointing the finger at police for something that was not done is not a difficult task."

Several officers acknowledged in their testimony that mistakes were made.

"There were a lot of things we could have done better at the scene," said Deputy Chief Glen McCloskey, the veteran officer who admitted he went farther into the crime scene than the head forensics officer had instructed "out of curiosity" and that he was "embarrassed" by his actions.

McCloskey will soon face an investigation by the New Brunswick Police Commission over allegations that he suggested another officer lie about his presence at the crime scene, the chief told CBC News.

Bates had asked the independent oversight body in October to "conduct a thorough investigation," following testimony by retired staff sergeant Mike King at Oland's trial.

King testified under oath that some time last year, either before or during Dennis Oland's preliminary inquiry, McCloskey, who was an inspector at the time and his supervisor, referred to another officer as being an "idiot" for having said that McCloskey had entered the scene.

King said his reaction was, "You were in the room." McCloskey's reply, according to King, was, "Well, you don't have to tell them that."

McCloskey denied the allegations and suggested it was King who lied to the court because he was upset about being passed over for a promotion.

Former Fredericton police chief Barry MacKnight, who was appointed by the New Brunswick Police Commission to oversee the probe, was waiting for the trial to conclude.

"I suspect Chief MacKnight will begin his inquiry soon," Bates said.

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