Dennis Oland was cheered and applauded by supporters as he walked out of the Saint John courtroom a free man on Friday after being found not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his multi-millionaire father, Richard.
Oland, 51, was charged with the killing in 2013. He has waged a tireless legal battle ever since, even after he was convicted by a jury in 2015 and spent close to a year in prison. That verdict was overturned on appeal in 2016 and the new trial ordered – this time before judge alone.
Justice Terrence Morrison of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench delivered a summary of his decision Friday, stating that Crown prosecutors failed to prove their case against Oland.
“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.”
Morrison also said he “cannot accept outright the accused’s denial of guilt.” He said there was much to implicate Oland in the crime, including blood stains containing his father’s DNA on the jacket he was wearing the day of the killing.
But still, the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are high standards in law, and he said they were not overcome by prosecutors.
A statement from New Brunswick’s Public Prosecution Services Friday said no decision has been made regarding a possible appeal. Prosecutors have 30 days to file an appeal, if they decide to do so.
Oland heard the verdict while standing next to his lead lawyer in the case, Alan Gold. Oland was calm and collected and hugged Gold when the verdict was read. He then hugged other members of his defence team and family members, especially his wife, Lisa, and his mother, Connie – Richard Oland’s widow – who unfailingly supported her son throughout the past eight years.
Oland’s reaction on Friday was in stark contrast to his response after his first trial in 2015 when a jury found him guilty. At that time, he collapsed in the courtroom and sobbed uncontrollably into the robes of one of his defence lawyers.
When he walked out of the Saint John courthouse Friday, surrounded by loved ones, Oland was greeted like a hero. His supporters said it’s time to celebrate, but some people thought of the victim in the saga – Richard Oland, a prominent New Brunswick businessman who was 69 at the time of his death.
“There may never be justice for Richard,” said Saint John resident Mary Stillwell, who was in the crowd outside the court and described herself as an interested observer of the case. “But that’s not the job of the defence, that’s the job of the police, and we needed them to do it eight years ago.”
Oland family members left without speaking to reporters. At a news conference, Gold said Dennis Oland’s immediate plans are to decompress from the pressures of the past eight years and spend time with his family.
“His plans are to mentally regroup,” Gold said.
He said Oland’s legal trials have been “misery” for the entire family and that Dennis was a victim of police tunnel vision. He encouraged people in New Brunswick to accept the judge’s ruling and believe that Dennis Oland is innocent of killing his father.
“I feel very bad that the Olands and Dennis had to endure what was a very punishing eight years – emotionally, financially, on all levels. And they had to endure it on the basis of what I think was initially a flawed investigation.” He called on the Saint John police to “reinvigorate” their investigation and “find the real perpetrators of this terrible, terrible crime.”
In a short statement, the Saint John Police Department said it would be inappropriate to comment as the decision will be reviewed by the Crown.
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 to run his own enterprises.
It was in one of those companies, the investment firm Far End Corp., that Oland was bludgeoned to death some time 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 only suspect for Saint John police 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.
The police and prosecution theory 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.”
Morrison said he found the testimony of a man who heard Richard Oland being killed credible. The man, Anthony Shaw, was working in the office below Oland’s on the night of July 6, 2011, and heard thumping and banging coming from the floor above.
The judge said he accepts that was the sound of Oland being killed so the time of the noises was critical. Shaw told the court he believes it was around 7:30 or 7:45 p.m. – a time when Dennis Oland was nowhere near the crime scene and could not have been the killer.
With files from Kevin Bissett
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