SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Two witnesses who likely heard businessman Richard Oland being beaten to death in his Saint John office initially told police they heard loud thumping noises at around 8 p.m., a time that would exclude Dennis Oland as the killer.
Const. Stephen Davidson, lead investigator into the murder for the Saint John police, was on the stand for the second day Thursday at Dennis Oland’s trial, where defence lawyers are raising issues about the quality of the police investigation.
Oland’s lawyer, Alan Gold, examined Davidson’s notes from July 7, 2011, the day Oland’s battered body was found lying in a pool of blood on the floor of his office.
Davidson, a young police officer at the time who was new to the major crimes unit, interviewed John Ainsworth and Anthony Shaw. The two men had been working together in the Printing Plus office on the ground floor of the building on July 6, 2011, the night Oland is believed to have been killed.
Oland’s office was on the second floor.
Davidson’s notes from Ainsworth state: “8 p.m. Stomping 5 – 6 times on the floor.” From Shaw, his notes report: “8ish, thumping on floor. Loud thumping. Did not check but mildly alarmed. Unusual for 8ish.”
Gold asked Davidson if Ainsworth, who owns the office building, indicated his 8 p.m. comment was a “guesstimate.”
“No, he did not,” Davidson said.
Shaw tied the time of the loud sounds to a visit from a customer who wanted to send a fax. The fax was time-stamped 8:11 p.m.
Davidson interviewed Dennis Oland later on July 7, 2011, at the Saint John police station, but did not directly ask him where he was at 8 p.m.
As well, the police were never able to locate the person who sent the fax.
The time element is critical evidence.
Dennis Oland was alone with his father in the office from about 5:45 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. on July 6, 2011. He then headed back to his home in nearby Rothesay, and between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. he was captured on surveillance cameras shopping with his wife Lisa.
However, the prosecution contends that since neither man made a note of the time when they heard the noises, it’s uncertain when they actually occurred. Ainsworth later modified his recollection to hearing the noises sometime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. That opened the door to Oland being the killer.
Ainsworth and Shaw have yet to testify at the Oland retrial.
Fifty-year-old Dennis Oland is being tried for a second time. His 2015 conviction by a jury for the second-degree murder was overturned on appeal and the new trial ordered. This time, the trial is before judge alone.
Oland has always maintained his innocence.
Gold asked Davidson why he opened a back door from the second floor office area on the morning of July 7, 2011, before it could be tested for fingerprints. The defence has said the exit could have been the route taken by the killer.
Davidson said he wanted to see where it went. He said he did not, at the time, regard it as part of the crime scene.
He said police also did not collect all of the documents on Richard Oland’s desk at the time of the killing, even those with blood stains. Nor did they test possible weapons to see what kind of implement might have been used in the grisly killing, although they assumed it was something like a drywall hammer.
No weapon was ever found.
Davidson became lead investigator a few months after the murder when the previous lead retired.
Chris Morris, The Canadian Press