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Criminal

Oland defence team presented more 'persuasive' arguments

Veteran Toronto criminal lawyer Christopher Hicks predicts Dennis Oland will be acquitted in the slaying of his millionaire father Richard, prompting a Crown appeal of the decision.

Hicks, founding partner of the Toronto firm Hicks Adams LLP, says the defence presented the more persuasive arguments throughout the trial, which began last November. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison has reserved his decision until July 19.

"The most important, potentially incriminating circumstantial evidence depends on two events — the fact that Richard's cellphone pinged off a tower in Rothesay, and that Dennis dry-cleaned a jacket he misidentified to investigators, and which later yielded blood spots and the DNA profile of his father," he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

"The defence maintained that there was no evidence that Dennis ever had his father's cell. Further, the jacket had hung in his father's closet during renovations, which raised the possibility of transference of forensic DNA evidence. The totality of the evidence would seem to favour the defence."

The Canadian Press (CP) reports that Richard Oland, a former executive of the family-owned Moosehead Breweries Ltd., was struck more than 40 times with a hammer-like weapon in July 2011 at this Saint John, N.B. office. Deep cuts on his hands suggested he tried to protect himself from his attacker. The weapon was never found.

Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot told the court that Oland's financial problems were a motive, but defence lawyer Alan Gold said that is speculation.

He told the judge that a significant section of the Crown's written submission to the court is based on the theory that Oland was driven to kill his father by "financial despair." He called that an overreach — a search for a motive in an effort to identify the killer.

The trial heard that a brown jacket worn by Oland when he visited his father had tiny bloodstains and Richard's DNA on it. Oland told police he had been wearing a navy blazer on that day, and the brown jacket was taken to be dry-cleaned the day after Richard was found dead.

But Gold said there was no proof showing his client tried to deceive police.

The Crown's case also focused on Richard's missing iPhone and evidence that it pinged with a tower to the east of the city after Oland travelled in that direction later that day. Gold told the court that the Crown produced nothing to prove that the son took the phone.

Gold also used his closing statements to highlight what he called a poor police investigation. He said police "failed to adequately process the scene" and "overlooked third parties."

Hicks, who has three decades of experience as defence counsel in murder cases, says the trial judge should give "significant consideration to the highly compromised investigation" conducted by the Saint John Police Force.

"The defence persuasively demonstrated that investigators contaminated the crime scene and incompetently conducted their search for forensic evidence," he says.

"In the final result, forensic evidence was either destroyed or not detected, which obscured the presence of the real murderer."

In addition to presenting their closing arguments, the prosecution and defence teams have submitted lengthy written briefs to the court.

Oland was initially charged with the second-degree murder of his father in 2013. He was convicted in a jury trial in 2015, but the verdict was set aside on appeal, and a new trial ordered. The second trial has been heard by a judge alone.

"Written submissions, in my view, are extremely important, much more so than oral submissions. Both appeals and submissions at trial are generally won by written submissions," Hicks says.

"Oral submissions are vapour, but written submissions are tangible, something the trial judge can take to chambers to read and re-read."

Morrison noted that few murder trials are heard before a judge alone, and few are this complicated, CP reports.

As a result, the judge has reserved his decision for 10 weeks, a time frame that doesn't surprise Hicks.

"Hearing the trial alone compels Justice Morrison to be both the judge of the facts as well as the arbiter of the law. This dual burden demands caution and careful deliberation by the trial judge, and time for contemplation," he says.

"It is is not surprising that the trial judge will not render a verdict for another two and a half months. But, in the end, I believe Dennis Oland will be acquitted, and the prosecution will appeal," Hicks says.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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