Criminal Law

Not guilty verdict the ‘only’ conclusion in Oland case: Hicks

By Staff

A verdict of not guilty was the only reasonable conclusion to the second-degree murder trial of Dennis Oland, says veteran Toronto criminal lawyer Christopher Hicks.

Hicks, founding partner of the Toronto firm Hicks Adams LLP, called the Crown’s case against Oland circumstantial and says prosecutors were unable to prove their arguments beyond a reasonable doubt.

“That was the only decision the judge could reach,” he says. “The defence presented a much stronger case.”

Justice Terrence Morrison of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench delivered his verdict Friday morning.

Oland, 51, was charged with beating his father Richard Oland to death on July 6, 2011.

The Canadian Press (CP) reports that Morrison said there were too many missing pieces of the puzzle to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “More than suspicion is needed to convict a person of murder,” he said.

Hicks says the defence produced plausible alternatives for each of the Crown’s arguments.

Usually, in a retrial, the Crown presents the stronger case because it has more resources at its disposal,” he says. “But that wasn’t the case here. The defence was able to put forth strong arguments to refute the Crown’s assertions.”

Oland, a former financial adviser who was charged in 2013, hugged his defence team after the verdict was read, CP reports.

The national news agency notes that his reaction was in stark contrast to his response after his first trial in 2015 when a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. At that time, he collapsed in the courtroom and sobbed uncontrollably into the robes of one of his defence lawyers.

That jury verdict was overturned on appeal and a second trial was held, this time before Morrison alone.

Members of his family who have stood by Oland throughout the almost decade-long ordeal cried tears of joy in the courtroom. The New Brunswick branch of the Maritime beer-brewing clan is one of the wealthiest families in the province, CP reports.

The family-owned business, Moosehead Breweries, is based in Saint John, and Richard Oland was a former vice-president until he lost out in a succession dispute and left the company to run his own enterprises.

It was in one of those companies, the investment firm Far End Corp., that the 69-year-old was bludgeoned to death sometime during the night of July 6, 2011. His body was found by his assistant the next morning. He had been beaten to death with a weapon that was never found.

From the start, Dennis Oland insisted he had nothing to do with his father’s death. But he was the one and only suspect for the Saint John Police Department from the day the body was found.

He is the last known person to have seen his father alive. The trial heard he went up and down to his father’s office three times in the space of about an hour on July 6, 2011, between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. He said his father was fine when he left him after a pleasant chat about the genealogy of the Oland family, CP reports.

The theory held by police and prosecution was that during his third and final visit to the office, Oland used something like a drywall hammer with both a sharp edge and a blunt end to beat his father to death, striking 45 blows, mostly to the head.

“Absolutely ridiculous,” Oland said when prosecutors accused him on the stand in March. “I’m not that kind of monster.”

Witness Andrew Shaw testified at both trials that he heard loud noises coming from the Far End office long after the time the Crown contended the murder took place. Shaw was working downstairs at Printing Plus on July 6, 2011, when he heard “a really hard crash,” followed by 10 to 15 “quick thumps” around 7:30 p.m., CBC News reports.

The defence also submitted a timestamped security video that shows Oland shopping in a nearby community about a 15- or 20-minute drive from Saint John with his wife around 7:38 p.m., CBC reports.

The prosecution theory of the crime was that Oland attacked his father in a rage following an argument over money. Dennis Oland was deeply in debt. Richard Oland had amassed a fortune worth an estimated $36 million and was living the high life, racing yachts and travelling with his mistress.

The defence team, led by Toronto lawyer Alan Gold, downplayed the importance of money. Oland himself told the court that while things were a bit tight — he was overspending by roughly $14,000 per month and his credit cards and lines of credit were maxed out — he could always borrow more money when he needed it.

“The money issue was preposterous,” Hicks says. “We’re talking about $500,000 here. That’s nothing in this context. Richard Oland was worth $36 million. Five-hundred thousand dollars was the cost of a new yacht or a sports car.”

Both Oland trials spanned several months. The second trial also was supposed to be a jury trial, but the discovery that a Saint John police officer who was helping the prosecution with jury selection used a database that was not permitted led to a mistrial, the dismissal of selected jurors and the decision to proceed before a judge alone.

The conduct of the Saint John Police Department was central to the defence strategy in both trials. Without a jury in the second trial, defence lawyers had tough questions for police officers who took the stand and often admitted to not being as careful as they should have been in protecting the crime scene, CP reports.

Defence lawyer Mike Lacy said so many officers, both senior and junior, visited the bloody scene that it was like “a tourist attraction.”

Gold also raised the issue of “confirmation bias” or tunnel vision in the police investigation. He argued that Saint John police decided early on that Oland was the killer, and they discounted any evidence that may have pointed in another direction.

Oland did not comment as he left the courthouse Friday. Supporters applauded as he was led to a waiting car, according to CP.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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