Criminal Law

Analysis: Oland acquittal boils down to time of death

By Randy O’Donnell, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

The fate of Dennis Oland was ultimately decided by the men working one floor below his father on the night Richard Oland was murdered, says Toronto criminal lawyer Christopher Hicks.

Justice Terrence Morrison of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench delivered a not guilty verdict in the murder trial, stating in a 150-page decision that Crown prosecutors failed to prove their case against Dennis Oland, The Canadian Press (CP) reports.

“More than suspicion is needed to convict someone of murder,” the judge told the packed courtroom. “In short, I am not satisfied the Crown has proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was Dennis Oland who killed Richard Oland.”

Hicks, founding partner of Hicks Adams LLP, says the acquittal on the second-degree murder charge hinged on the testimony of two print shop workers.

The men were working downstairs under Richard’s office on July 6, 2011, and one testified to hearing a really hard crash, followed by 10 to 15 quick thumps coming from directly above around 7:30 p.m. It was corroborated during a sworn police statement made by the man working beside him that night. The second man would later modify his statement during testimony, saying he thought the noises happened sometime between 6 and 8 p.m.

“Justice Morrison said there was evidence that was troublesome that pointed toward Dennis Oland. But he also said the critical piece was the time of death and the evidence of the print shop workers, especially the evidence given to police under oath in 2011,” Hicks tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“He said that raises a reasonable doubt that Dennis Oland was involved in the matter. If the time of the struggle was between 7:30 and 7:45 p.m., clearly Dennis was elsewhere, shopping with his wife 15 to 20 minutes away, as video surveillance evidence shows,” he says.

Oland, a former financial adviser, was charged with killing his father in 2013 and was convicted by a jury in 2015. That verdict was set aside on appeal in 2016 due to an error in the judge’s charge to the jury, and the new trial was ordered.

After 44 days of hearings spanning four months, with testimony from 61 witnesses and more than 300 exhibits filed, Oland was set free. Saint John police suspected him of the crime from the outset, but he has always insisted he had nothing to do with his father’s death.

It’s a family tragedy that gripped the public from the start. Richard was 69 when his battered and bloody body was discovered. He was a prominent businessman in Saint John, worth an estimated $36 million at the time of his death, CP reports.

The Oland family is well known in the Maritimes where its members have been involved in beer-making for generations. The victim was a former vice-president of Moosehead Breweries, the oldest, family-owned brewery in Canada.

Richard left Moosehead in the early 1980s following a succession dispute but established himself in other enterprises ranging from real estate to trucking. He was killed in the offices of his investment firm, the Far End Corp., located in the heart of the old port city, CP reports.

The trial was told Richard was struck more than 40 times, mostly on the head, with a weapon, or weapons, that had both sharp and blunt edges. He was hit with such force, his skull shattered in several places. Blood from the attack sprayed around the room. No weapon was ever found, CP says.

“This was a crime of passion. This was personal,” lead Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot told the court. “This was not a random killing by a crackhead,” the national news agency reports.

Prosecution lawyers acknowledged the case was circumstantial but said Oland had motive and opportunity. He is the last known person to have seen Richard alive, and he paid that final visit to his millionaire father at a time when his finances were in disarray, and he was struggling with debt.

“It’s about a father and son, one wealthy and one not,” Veniot said of the case.

Hicks says the Crown’s two theories are not compatible.

If the motive was money, that suggests planning and deliberation in order to commit a crime that would rid him of a $500,000 debt Oland owed to his father. If it was a crime of passion that means he lashed out in a fit of rage — hardly a calculated act, he says.

“Justice Morrison addressed the fact that it was a difficult relationship between father and son, to a certain extent, and that Dennis Oland’s finances were a mess in July of 2011, but that was not really a factor. As far as motive is concerned, he dismissed it almost entirely. To say that this is all about money is ridiculous,” says Hicks, who has poured over the justice’s lengthy decision.

“One Crown theory doesn’t jive with the other. It doesn’t make sense. The judge had trouble with that, and I think rightly so.”

Public Prosecution Services has not yet decided whether to appeal. It has 30 days to file, something Hicks believes is not likely.

“I think it was a very thorough decision, pretty much appeal proof. I don’t think there is going to be much there for the Crown to work with,” he says.

“It was a balanced judgment, one in which Morrison took everything into account. I can’t say he misinterpreted anything. He was very judicious in his decision,” Hicks says. “In the final analysis, it was the time of death. Everything turns on that.”

– With files from The Canadian Press

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