One of the first police officers to arrive on the scene where multi-millionaire businessman Richard Oland’s body had been discovered knew right away it was not going to be a good outcome.
Const. Duane Squires of the Saint John police force was fairly new to the job on the morning of July 7, 2011, when he answered a 911 call about a man found not breathing.
As he entered the building in uptown Saint John where 69-year-old Richard Oland had his office, he was struck like other witnesses by a “pungent” odour he associated with death.
“It was the distinct smell of death, or blood,” Squires told the murder trial of Dennis Oland, Richard’s only son, on Friday.
“It doesn’t give you a good feeling when you smell that.”
When Squires first saw Oland’s body, he knew there was no use considering life-saving procedures.
Oland, he said, was lying face down by his desk, surrounded by a wide pool of coagulated blood. There were severe gashes on the back of his head and scattered around the body were things like a knocked-over garbage can, a set of keys and a remote control.
He knew right away this was a situation where his supervisors would have to be called in to investigate. He said he and another officer with him carefully backed out of the office.
Dennis Oland, 50, is on trial for the second-degree murder of his father. Prosecutors say Richard, who was worth an estimated $37 million, was killed “in a rage” by Dennis who was “on the edge financially.”
Dennis Oland has pleaded not guilty. His first trial in 2015 resulted in a jury verdict of guilty, but that conviction was set aside on appeal due to an error in the judge’s charge to the jury and a new trial ordered.
These are early days of the Oland retrial before judge alone and Crown prosecutors are methodically taking the court through discovery of the body and the steps taken by police officers at the scene.
Const. Trinda McAlduff, the first police officer on the stand at the trial, was a trainee with the Saint John police when she arrived at the Oland murder scene. One of her main functions that day was to keep track of the comings and goings of people at the scene.
This included numerous police officers, paramedics, the coroner and others.
“There were a lot of people and you were trying to keep track of it all, correct?” asked defence lawyer Michael Lacy.
“Yes,” McAlduff answered.
The testimony of police officers is key at Oland’s trial. Oland’s defence team has signalled that police mishandling of the crime scene and the investigation are important factors in the case.
“In this case, an issue will be the manner in which the Saint John police force handled the investigation on site, and their conduct in performing that crucial police function,” defence lawyer Alan Gold told the court in his opening statement.
“Richard Oland’s body was found on the morning of July 7, 2011, at about 9 a.m. and by 1 p.m. the Saint John police force was discussing putting surveillance on Dennis, as far as we can tell simply because he visited his father ... late on the afternoon of the previous day. By 8:30 p.m. that same day they were accusing him of being involved in his father’s death.”
Dennis is the last known person to have seen his father alive. He visited him late in the afternoon of July 6, 2011, and he and his father were alone in the office.
The trial is before Justice Terrence Morrison of the Court of Queen’s Bench, who earlier in the week declared a mistrial in the planned jury trial because of improprieties involving police background searches of jurors.
The New Brunswick Police Commission announced Friday it will investigate the police jury vetting that triggered the mistrial. However, the commission said in a statement it will hold off on its investigation until “all criminal proceedings in this matter are completed.”
Gold said in an interview he is disappointed the commission is going to wait.
“There is no reason to wait until after the case is finished,” he said.
“The people of Saint John are entitled to know if there are issues regarding training, practice, and improprieties or deficiencies in the education of their police officers. They are entitled to know and have shortcomings remedied as soon as possible.”