Dennis Oland has been found guilty of second-degree murder for killing his wealthy father in a case that has horrified and fascinated the Maritimes since Richard Oland's battered body was discovered four years ago.
The courtroom erupted in sobbing when the jury delivered their verdict Saturday. Mr. Oland doubled over in his seat and wept uncontrollably, muttering, "Oh my god." He now faces life in prison.
Mr. Oland's wife Lisa cried out, "How could you do this?" before fleeing the courtroom. When she returned, Mr. Oland gazed at her and mouthed, "I love you, I'm sorry." He grimaced and trembled as the judge arranged a sentencing date with the Crown and defense.
Despite a common belief that Mr. Oland was guilty, the verdict shocked many here who thought he would be acquitted for lack of evidence. No murder weapon was ever found, and much of the Crown's case was circumstantial.
The story captured Atlantic Canada's imagination with seamy revelations about one of New Brunswick's best-known business dynasties. In a province that accords almost feudal power to families like the Irvings and the McCains, the Olands carved out an influential niche as Canada's biggest and oldest independent brewers, revered for preserving local jobs and resented for their charmed lives in the tony suburb of Rothesay.
The Oland affair became the Maritimes' answer to the O.J. Simpson trial – a comparison that locals frequently made themselves.
The four-month court case – which began in balmy late-summer weather and ended with snow on the ground – turned ordinary people here into experts on fabric absorption rates, cellphone tower technology, and inheritance law. Crucial pieces of evidence – "drywall hammer," "brown jacket," "spatter" – entered the local vernacular.
The case was on everyone's lips, dominating newscasts and front pages and becoming the focus of gossip at cornerstone social institutions like Tim Hortons and church.
"It was like a grand opera," said Judith Meinert-Thomas, who attended the trial regularly. "I figured we wouldn't see the like of this trial for another 100 years."
Maureen O'Neill, a local painter, was inspired by the grisly story. Her large, abstract canvas, "The Crucifixion of Richard Oland," contains a collage of materials related to the case, including a Moosehead beer label and 40 nails representing the injuries inflicted during the attack.
For all the fanfare it garnered, the crime itself was horrific. Dennis Oland was accused of bludgeoning his father to death in a fit of rage inspired by Richard's stinginess and philandering, during a visit to the older man's office to discuss family genealogy. The 69-year-old's body was found with dozens of sharp and blunt force wounds covering his head, hands, and neck, including 14 skull fractures.
A near-total lack of hard evidence meant that the Crown had to rely heavily on motive to make their case. They noted that Dennis was anxious about finances, and that he was late making interest payments on a half-million dollar loan his father had extended to him during Dennis's divorce.
Richard was also having an affair with local real estate agent Diana Sedlacek, a liaison Dennis disapproved of and felt guilty about keeping from his mother. Lead prosecutor P.J. Veniot argued that the debts and the affair piled tension on long-standing strains in a relationship that seemed to consist largely of a son trying and failing to live up to his father's unrelentingly high expectations.
A quiet, insular city, Saint John was hardly prepared for a crime as sensational and gruesome as the Oland killing. If the case brought frissons of excitement, it also caught crucial institutions off-guard.
It now seems clear that the local police were overwhelmed by the investigation.
"They didn't know what they were doing," said Mike Devos, who works at a downtown bookstore, echoing a widespread feeling. "They're used to handing out parking tickets, dealing with drunks, prostitution, maybe the occasional drug deal – and suddenly they have a high-profile murder."
Some of the their mistakes were breathtaking. Officers allowed an unknown number of people to use the bathroom adjacent to Mr. Oland's office for two days after his body was found, possibly destroying evidence of a clean-up effort; they didn't test the building's back door for finger prints or DNA before contaminating it; a senior investigator needlessly entered the crime scene out of "curiosity," without wearing any protective gear; and one officer used his bare hands to touch the brown jacket Dennis Oland was wearing on the day of the killing – the same jacket that was kept folded in a paper bag for months before testing, and which became a crucial piece of evidence after it was found to be stained with four specks of Richard Oland's blood.
Meanwhile, the wealth of the Olands left many convinced that Dennis would be acquitted all along.
"There is a feeling that there's a two-tiered justice system, that richer families get treated different," said April Cunningham, a former reporter with the Telegraph-Journal who covered the case.
If this was indeed a Maritime O.J. trial, Mr. Oland's defense counsel Alan Gold played the role of Johnnie Cochran – a swaggering slick talker who could lean on witnesses and wield a catchphrase.
In a city where the pejorative "come-from-awayer" is popularly abbreviated as CFA, some thought employing a high-priced Toronto lawyer might backfire on the defense. Mr. Gold easily outclassed Mr. Veniot in closing arguments, but in the end, the jury was not convinced.
Dennis's uncle, Moosehead brewery magnate Derek Oland, released a statement supporting his nephew.
"We are disappointed and dismayed by the outcome of the trial. We continue to believe our nephew and cousin Dennis is innocent and we will support him and his family members through the course of whatever legal actions will unfold. We want to reiterate that all Oland family members are certain Dennis had nothing to do with the death of his father. We are proud of Dennis and we continue to place our trust in the expertise of his legal team."
In a separate statement, Dennis's mother Connie said the family remained "proud" of him.
"We are shocked and saddened by the outcome of the trial. Our faith in Dennis' innocence has never wavered and the jury's decision has not changed that belief," she wrote.
The jury deliberated for two-and-a-half days before reaching their guilty verdict. They also recommended that Mr. Oland spend ten years in custody before becoming eligible for parole. In second-degree murder trials, the judge can take a jury's recommendations into consideration.
Sentencing was set for February 11.