So much depends upon a brown jacket stained with a dead millionaire’s blood.
Dennis Oland initially told police he wasn’t wearing the jacket on the evening of July 6, 2011, when he stopped by his father’s office to allegedly discuss their storied family’s genealogy. Dennis was the last known person to see Richard Oland alive that evening.
Richard Oland’s body was found in his office the next morning, his head split open and surrounded by a drying pool of blood. The 69-year-old had been brutally beaten to death with an unknown weapon or weapons, striking him 45 times on the head and hands. Investigators said the attack resulted in blood splattered around the room, and that the killer’s clothes probably would have blood on them as well.
Richard Oland’s death shocked the city of Saint John, N.B., where the Olands are well-known as the family behind Moosehead Brewery. The scandalous killing captivated the community, particularly after Dennis Oland was charged with murder and the case went to trial.
During the first trial, the Crown focused on possible issues of motive, including Dennis Oland’s financial difficulties. The Crown also presented a blood-stained jacket as evidence that Dennis Oland was allegedly present when his father was murdered.
But in his own testimony, Dennis Oland downplayed his finances as a recurring issue in the life of a financial adviser and said he never raised them with his father.
Dennis Oland arrives at the Law Courts in Saint John, N.B., on Nov. 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Oland’s defence suggested he made a mistake in his initial police interview, during which he claimed to have worn a navy blazer to his father’s office — not the brown jacket that was later seized from his home. Investigators found that the jacket had been dry-cleaned shortly after Richard’s death, but a few drops of his blood were still present on it.
The defence argued that the police investigation was sloppy, and that investigators didn’t have the proper authority for the search warrant that allowed them to seize the brown jacket.
Dennis Oland pleaded not guilty at his first trial, but the jury ultimately convicted him of second-degree murder. However, the case was overturned through an appeal over the judge’s instructions to the jury regarding the jacket, and a second trial is now underway.
The first trial was plagued by accusations that police bungled the crime-scene investigation, although the verdict was ultimately overturned because of the judge’s error.
The second trial started on Nov. 21 and is expected to run for approximately four months, with no jury present. Dennis Oland is expected to take the stand at some point to testify before the judge.
Here’s what you need to know about the case.
Who was Richard Oland?
The late Richard Oland was a businessman whose wealth was estimated at more than $30 million, a member of the Order of Canada and former vice president of the family-owned Moosehead Breweries. Richard and his older brother, Derek, were high-ranking executives at Moosehead until the 1980s, when Derek was tapped to run the company. Richard left Moosehead in a bitter split with his brother, then poured his wealth into other ventures, including trucking and investing operations.
Prominent businessman Richard Oland, 69, was murdered on July 6, 2011, in his Saint John office.
Richard Oland was well-known in Saint John for running the Canada Games in 1985 and sitting on the boards of various community organizations, according to Greg Marquis, a history professor and author of Truth & Honour: The Death of Richard Oland and the Trial of Dennis Oland.
“You would get this image of him being a very successful, hard-working, community-oriented businessman,” said Marquis in an interview with Global News. Marquis grew up in Saint John and still teaches there at the University of New Brunswick.
But there was a darker side to Richard, Marquis says. He could be a “brutal” person to be around, especially for his three children, Jacqueline, Elizabeth and Dennis.
“We heard through the trial the other side of him,” said Marquis, who followed the case closely but did not know the Olands. “He could be a bit blunt with people — a little bit of a bully, a little bit selfish.”
Richard had been married to his wife, Constance, for 45 years, but he was also maintaining a long-running affair with a woman named Diana Sedlacek at the time of his death, the first trial heard. Sedlacek was one of the first to notice something was amiss on the night he died. They chatted with each other at the same time each night, but he never returned any of her calls.
Marquis says New Brunswick residents hung on every sordid new revelation reported in the media throughout the trial. He doesn’t expect the same kind of circus in this second trial, which will likely cover much of the same evidence that was previously revealed.
The day Richard Oland died
Dennis Oland stopped by his father’s office on the evening of July 6, 2011, carrying a bag of books about the family’s genealogy. Richard Oland’s secretary, Maureen Adamson, was just getting ready to leave work when Dennis arrived, and she left the two alone in Richard’s office between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m., according to testimony from the first trial.
Dennis Oland later told police he left his father’s office at 6:30 p.m. and headed home to the community of Rothesay, a 20-minute drive from his father’s office. He said he stopped off along the way at Renforth Wharf to see if his children were swimming there, but they were not so he continued on his way. His wife said he returned home at 7:30 p.m.
Sedlacek called Richard’s iPhone at 6:35 p.m. It was their regular time to chat so she was surprised when he didn’t answer. She texted him at 6:44 p.m., asking where he was. No answer. She tried calling again, but it went straight to voicemail.
Richard’s iPhone pinged off a cell tower in Rothesay at 6:44 p.m., a Rogers Communications expert later said at the trial. The phone started reporting “roaming error” messages at 6:46 p.m., as it bounced nearly two dozen calls and text messages over the ensuing day.
Two men working in the print shop directly below Richard Oland’s office heard thumping noises coming from above at approximately 8 p.m.
Lisa Oland said her husband Dennis returned home at approximately 7:30 p.m. that night and went directly upstairs to change his clothes. She didn’t see what he was wearing when he first arrived because she was sick and trying to rest. The Olands went out to a pharmacy and a market before returning home and spending the rest of the night watching TV.
Bludgeoned to death
Maureen Adamson found Richard’s body the next morning. He lay dead on the office floor in a pool of drying blood. His car keys, backpack and papers were scattered all around him. His wallet was still in his pocket but his iPhone was missing.
Forensics would later conclude that Richard was bludgeoned to death using blunt and sharp-edged weapons or a single double-edged weapon. He’d suffered 36 blows to the head and several seemingly defensive injuries to his hands.
No weapon was ever recovered.
Authorities quickly narrowed in on Dennis as their prime suspect, but they spent more than two years building a case before any charges were laid.
Dennis Oland was eventually arrested on Nov. 12, 2013, and charged with second-degree murder for Richard’s death.
The first trial
Oland was ordered to stand trial after a preliminary hearing that lasted 37 days and involved 42 witnesses. Family members issued a statement proclaiming Dennis’ innocence, while his defence team battled the Crown over several pieces of evidence, including the jacket.
The Crown successfully argued that excluding the jacket from the trial would effectively “gut” its case, and it was permitted as evidence.
The case went to trial in September 2015. The testimony largely focused on Dennis Oland’s relationship with his father and the timeline of the night Richard was murdered. The Crown called multiple DNA experts to testify about the brown jacket, which was found to have traces of Richard’s blood on it.
The defence highlighted several problems with how police handled the crime scene, including one investigator who did not wear gloves.
The jury deliberated for 30 hours in the case and found Oland guilty of second-degree murder on Dec. 19, 2015. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
A New Brunswick appeals court overturned the conviction on Oct. 24, 2016. The court ruled that the trial judge failed to properly instruct jurors regarding the brown jacket and Oland’s initial claim that he had been wearing a navy blazer.
Oland was released on bail on Oct. 25, 2016, and granted a new trial.
New trial, mistrial
Oland pleaded not guilty again on Oct. 15, 2018. The trial proceeded through its preliminary phase until Nov. 20, when Justice Terrence Morrison dismissed the jury because of “improprieties” with the way it was selected. An officer with the Saint John police force had improperly conducted background checks on many of the potential jurors.
In a statement to reporters after the mistrial, defence lawyer Alan Gold said Saint John police overstepped limits on jury investigations.
Gold said the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that jurors’ privacy “disallowed any police data base searches into the private lives of jurors in order to find out any and all contacts they may have had with the police.”
But Gold said the errors by Saint John police didn’t stop there, and asked that a New Brunswick Police Commission inquiry into the force’s conduct in the Oland murder investigation, which had been put on hold pending the jury trial, now resume.
The Crown opened the second trial this week by suggesting that the accused killed his father “in a rage.”
Marquis expects the case to hinge on the timeline of the night Richard was killed.
“The Crown contends that the murder took place around 6:30 p.m., which would have given Dennis time to commit the murder, get in his car, drive out, make one stop at a wharf … get home by 7 p.m., get his wife and go out,” he said.
The trial is expected to run until February or March.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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