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Oland defence team to explore toxicology results: Hicks

Alcohol detected in his slain father’s body during autopsy could prove pivotal to Dennis Oland’s defence, says Toronto criminal lawyer Christopher Hicks.

Hicks, partner with Hicks Adams LLP, tells that Oland’s defence team will probably call its own toxicologist to expand on testimony provided by a prosecution witness indicating the presence of alcohol in the multimillionaire’s system at the time of his death July 6, 2011 in Saint John, N.B.

The defence is set to begin its case in the second-degree murder trial Tuesday.

“The Crown derided this testimony from its own expert because they had no evidence that Richard left his office after Dennis departed,” says Hicks, who is not involved in the case and comments generally.

“Some observers suspect the defence has evidence that after Dennis exited his father’s office around 6:30 p.m., Richard left to meet a ‘friend’ for a snack and a glass of wine in the Rothesay area with his cellphone in his pocket,” he says.

“Richard is believed to have then returned to his office, where he was murdered around 7:30 p.m., when his son Dennis  — according to video surveillance — was unarguably at a market in Rothesay with his wife.”

A man working in an office above the 52 Canterbury St. murder scene testified that he heard loud thumps and bangs between 7:30 and 8 p.m. A second man testified that he did not know what time he heard the noises, beyond the general range of 6 to 8 p.m. The noises likely were the sound of Richard Oland, 69, being bludgeoned to death, The Canadian Press (CP) reports.

Dennis Oland has pleaded not guilty to murdering his father, whose body was found lying in his office on July 7, 2011. This is his second trial — Oland was convicted in a jury trial in 2015, but that verdict was set aside on appeal, and the new trial ordered.

Richard Oland’s death stunned the city of Saint John, where the Olands are well-known as the affluent family behind Moosehead Brewery.

His missing cellphone was a key plank in the Crown’s case, which wrapped up Friday.

Cellphone records indicate the missing phone received its last message at 6:44 p.m. on the day of the murder. Experts told the court it pinged off a tower in Rothesay, on the outskirts of Saint John, CP reports.

Dennis Oland, 50, told police he left his father's office about 6:30 p.m. that day and immediately headed to his home in Rothesay.

The phone, like the weapon used in the killing, has never been recovered.

“It was the prosecution's theory that Dennis took the cellphone with him to Rothesay after murdering his father — why was never made clear. This, according to the Crown, explained why the last call to Richard's phone pinged off the Rothesay tower,” says Hicks, who has decades of experience in defending clients accused of homicide.

“The defence introduced the phenomenon of a ’neighbouring’ tower, which could explain why Richard’s cell, when still in his office, could have pinged off the Rothesay tower, rather than Saint John,” he says. “The defence also raised the issue of a ‘roaming error,’ which we can expect will be developed in the presentation of its case.”

The most contentious portion of the Crown's case involved the murder investigation conducted by the Saint John Police Department, CP reports.

Early testimony included admissions from senior officers that insufficient measures were taken to protect the crime scene. The court heard about multiple officers, not directly involved in the investigation, visiting the scene to view Richard's body. Few of those officers wore protective gear.

Defence lawyers also argued that police did not adequately investigate a possible back-door escape route from the crime scene and that there was a rush to judgment in deciding Dennis Oland was the prime suspect mere hours after his father's body was discovered, CP says.

“From the beginning, the Crown’s narrative of the investigation by Saint John police has been savagely attacked by Dennis Oland’s defence team,” says Hicks.

“Investigators did not follow best practices, failed to secure the crime scene, and treated Richard Oland’s office as a tourist destination, strolling about indiscriminately without hazmat suits, heedless of the need to preserve evidence.

“The integrity of the crime scene was punctured by officers’ coffee cups, casual use of the bathroom facilities before they had been scoured for evidence, and a total failure to examine a major escape route out the back door,” he says.

“The competence and integrity of the investigation by the Saint John Police Department was gravely compromised, and the prosecution’s case against Dennis Oland was weakened significantly,” Hicks says.

Defence lawyer Alan Gold has told the court that Oland will testify in his own defence, as he did at his first trial, CP reports. The trial is expected to last until mid-March.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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