SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Police believed that Dennis Oland, the prime suspect in the murder of his father, Richard, was a flight risk and that is why they tried to rush evidence through the RCMP crime lab.
Sgt. Mark Smith, head of the Saint John police forensic identification unit, was on the stand Thursday at the trial of Oland, who is charged with second-degree murder in the July 6, 2011, bludgeoning death.
Smith said based on information he was given by major crime investigators, he advised the RCMP crime lab he needed a quick turnaround on potential blood and DNA evidence because Oland was out on bail and could flee.
Smith was being questioned by defence lawyer Michael Lacy, who wanted Smith to clarify that RCMP technicians were not forcing him to pare down the amount of evidence he wanted tested, but were helping prioritize the samples.
The limitations were put in place by Smith himself, Lacy said, because he wanted the results quickly.
Smith agreed that was the case, and it was acknowledged in a response he received from a crime lab strategist.
“I have approached the national operations manager and discussed your request for priority status, given the fact that the suspect is not in custody and is a potential flight risk,” wrote Bree Tucker in an email to Smith, produced in court.
The RCMP lab strategist suggested Smith send just five items in his first batch in July 2011, including DNA material from Dennis Oland and swabs from his car, to maximize the value of lab analysis and possibly establish a link to the murder.
However, Smith acknowledged that despite a lengthy and detailed search of Dennis Oland’s car, no blood evidence was found.
Smith also agreed with Lacy that the Richard Oland murder scene was “one of the bloodiest” he has ever seen.
Oland was 69, a prominent businessman and multi-millionaire, when he was killed in his Saint John office. He was struck more than 40 times, mostly on the head, with a weapon that was never found.
Smith has told the court there was blood spatter and pools of blood in a wide radius around the body, which was lying face down on the floor.
A brown jacket Dennis Oland was wearing when he visited his father on July 6, 2011, was seized by police and was found to have several small blood stains on it. Testing revealed the blood matched the DNA profile of Richard Oland.
Smith has acknowledged that he did not take sufficient precautions to preserve and protect the crime scene from outside contamination. A number of officers walked in and out of the scene, usually without protective gear on.
Lacy said Smith’s failure to preserve the crime scene from unnecessary traffic was “inexcusable.”
“There was a possibility of interfering with trace evidence,” Lacy said during his cross examination.
“Very possible,” Smith said.
Smith said he tested the sink in the bathroom near Oland’s office despite the fact that it had been used by police officers for several days following the murder. Blood was detected, but it turned out to have nothing to do with the crime.
The trial, before judge alone, continues Friday. It is the second trial for Oland. His 2015 conviction for second-degree murder was set aside on appeal and the new trial ordered.