Day 6

Found guilty of murdering his father, Dennis Oland now appealing his conviction

Dennis Oland was back in a New Brunswick courtroom this week, appealing his 2015 murder conviction in the death of his father, Richard Oland. The case against him was largely circumstantial and his lawyers are arguing for an acquittal or a new trial. CBC reporter Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon covered the investigation and the trial.
Dennis Oland, 48, is facing life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years after being found guilty of second-degree murder in his father's death. He was in court Oct. 18-20, 2016, appealing his conviction. (CBC)

His murder trial was one of the longest and most sensational in New Brunswick's history, and this week Dennis Oland was back in court fighting to have his conviction overturned.

In December of 2015, Oland was found guilty in the second degree murder of his father, Richard Oland.

As the owners of Moosehead Breweries the Oland family is among the business elite of the Maritimes. Richard Oland's murder, and his son's conviction, shocked the community of Saint John and the entire province.

Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon is a CBC reporter and web editor based in Saint John. She's worked on the story since the day Richard Oland's body was discovered and has now written a book about the case, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland.

Emotions were high in the courtroom during the murder trial, but as MacKinnon tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, the mood was a  little more reserved during the appeal process this week.

"On Tuesday, the first day of the appeal, Oland walked in, he was in shackles," describes MacKinnon. "He had this big smile on his face. You know, he's been in custody for 10 months now, so he was obviously happy to see his family and friends who filled the courtroom."

Questions that remain

MacKinnon says she drew her book title from a comment made by the Saint John police chief at the time, Bill Reid, when he announced that Richard Oland's death was a homicide.

"He said, 'We do not want to make a mistake. We want to be able to prove this case without a shadow of a doubt'," says MacKinnon.

But public opinion remains divided, largely because the case mostly involves circumstantial evidence.

Some people have referred to this as the O.J. Simpson case of the Maritimes and it's really left the community divided.- Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon

"Even after Dennis Oland has been convicted by a jury of his peers, there are sort of three camps: the people who think he's guilty, the people who say he's not guilty, and the people who think he's guilty but that it wasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt," says MacKinnon.

Oland's case is now under appeal. MacKinnon points out that there is also a provincial police commission investigation into the Saint John Police investigation of Richard Oland's murder regarding issues that came to light during the trial.

MacKinnon explains that questions were raised about police officers allegedly walking through the crime scene without wearing any protective clothing, officers using the bathroom near the crime scene before it was tested for forensic evidence, and the fact that the back door to the building was never tested because it was opened and contaminated by someone before it could be tested.

Also of concern for those in doubt of the verdict were the fact that the murder weapon was never found; that Richard Oland's iPhone remains missing; and that nothing was missing from his office other than his phone — including his wallet, the keys to his BMW and his Rolex watch.

What is a lie?

During the appeal process, the court heard a lengthy discussion about what constitutes a lie. In legal terms, a lie falls into a bit of a grey zone.

"In this case, it all centres around the statement Oland gave to police about what he was wearing on July 6, 2011, when he went to visit his father at his office the night his father was killed," says MacKinnon.

"He told police he was wearing a navy blazer but he was actually wearing a brown sports jacket. He was seen on video surveillance wearing that jacket."

RCMP Sgt. Brian Wentzell found four areas of staining on the brown sports jacket seized from Dennis Oland's bedroom closet. (Court exhibit)

The jacket is important to the trial because four spots of blood were found on the brown jacket with DNA matching Richard Oland's profile.

"So during the trial, the crown portrayed this as a lie that was meant to mislead police in their investigation, but the defence maintained that it was an innocent mistake."

Oland testified that he had been wearing a navy blazer the day after his father's death and was just confused.

Part of the basis for Oland's appeal is the defence claim that the trial judge should have instructed the jury to ignore the claim that Oland's statement about the jacket was a lie. They say there is no evidence to prove it was a lie.

The brown jacket is the only DNA evidence that may link Oland to the crime scene. The defence also made a point that the murder was gruesome and bloody. Richard Oland was bludgeoned to death, and was struck in the head and neck area 39 times. Blood was spattered all over his office, so Oland's lawyers question why only four small spots of blood would be found on his clothes if he were responsible for the murder.

Impact on the community

Oland was found guilty of the murder in December of 2015, and his trial lasted three months. After waiting through that trial, the community is once again awaiting a decision.

"Some people have referred to this as the O.J. Simpson case of the Maritimes and it's really left the community divided."

A decision on Oland's appeal could come on Monday. If his conviction is not overturned or he is not granted a new trial, Oland has the option to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.