On the day he was savagely beaten to death, multi-millionaire businessman Richard Oland was catching up on work in his Saint John office and appeared pleased when his only son, Dennis, popped in to discuss genealogy and the Oland family tree.
Over seven years later, Dennis Oland is on trial for a second time for the bludgeoning death of his dad on that day in 2011, and prosecutors have told the court money was the motive.
Maureen Adamson, Richard Oland’s executive assistant at the time of his death, was on the stand for day two of the Oland murder retrial on Thursday, recounting the daily routine of the office in uptown Saint John which included keeping track of money Dennis owed his father.
She was the first to discover the body and the bloody crime scene on the morning of July 7, 2011. Oland, 69, had been struck 45 times, mostly on the head, with a weapon that was never found.
Adamson said Dennis was making interest-only payments of $1,666.67 per month on a loan of more than half a million dollars Richard Oland had extended when Dennis was in a tight financial spot due to divorce several years earlier.
Prosecutors have told the court, and the defence has agreed, that at the time of his father’s death Dennis Oland had fallen again into severe financial stress as a result of living beyond his means.
The defence is arguing Dennis was used to being in debt and did not regard it as a big deal. The prosecution says financial pressures were the trigger for what it describes as a rage killing.
Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Michael Lacy, a Toronto lawyer and a new member of the Oland defence team, Adamson described what she knew about the relationship between father and son, saying she did not see signs of the strained and troubled relationship referred to by prosecutors.
Adamson said Dennis Oland was not a frequent visitor to his father’s uptown Saint John office, but when he showed up late in the day of July 6, 2011 — the day of the murder — Richard Oland seemed happy to see him.
“It was an animated hello, a ‘Hey Dennis’,” she said of Richard Oland’s greeting to the man subsequently accused of his murder.
“He seemed happy to see him.”
Adamson said both Olands were engrossed in research Dennis was spearheading into the family tree, stretching back to its roots in Great Britain. The Olands are one of the best known business families in the Maritimes, where they have been involved in brewing beer since the 19th century.
Richard Oland was a former executive with Moosehead Breweries in Saint John, although he left the company in the early 1980s. Adamson said he was worth about $37 million.
On the day of the murder, she left shortly after Dennis Oland’s arrival at around 5:30 p.m. From that point on, father and son were alone in the office.
Dennis said he left a little after 6:30 p.m. and headed back to his home in Rothesay, on the outskirts of the city. He told police his father was fine when he left and he has steadfastly maintained he is innocent of the crime.
Adamson said she thought the father and son got along well.
“Aside from the normal grumblings most people have with family members ... I thought they got along well,” Adamson said. “I did not see that stress I heard about later (during the first trial).”
Adamson also said Richard Oland did not keep close track of the monthly payments his son had to make. She agreed when Lacy said that he would only ask about the loan to Dennis and his payments “once in a blue moon.” She said he never complained to her about the loan.
Dennis Oland, 50, was convicted in 2015 of the second-degree murder of his father after a lengthy jury trial. That conviction was set aside on appeal in 2016 and a new trial ordered.
The second jury trial was declared a mistrial before it got started earlier this week. Justice Terrence Morrison of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench cited “improprieties” in the jury selection process. It turned out a Saint John police officer coordinating files for Crown prosecutors was accessing an internal police database to research jurors in violation of a directive from the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Crown was not involved in the improper searches and immediately informed the defence and the judge. The trial is now being heard by Morrison alone.