FREDERICTON –The jury had enough evidence to reasonably convict Dennis Oland of murder, but was improperly instructed on what was needed to get there, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal says.
The appeal court quashed Oland’s second-degree murder conviction in the death of his multi-millionaire father in October, but did not give its full reasoning until a written ruling Thursday.
Writing for a three-judge panel, Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau said the verdict was not unreasonable, but the evidence was not so overwhelming that it undoubtedly would have withstood the trial judge’s legal error.
“No accused is entitled to a perfectly instructed jury. However, the appellant, like all who elect to be tried by judge and jury, had the right to a properly instructed jury,” said Drapeau.
That error related to what appeared to be the key piece of evidence against Oland: a brown Hugo Boss jacket.
Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer the day Richard Oland was killed, July 7, 2011, but later said he was wearing the brown Hugo Boss. The Crown portrayed the statement as an intentional lie, while the defence said it was an honest mistake.
The brown jacket was later found to have minuscule blood stains and DNA matching the profile of Oland’s 69-year-old father, who had been found bludgeoned to death in his Saint John office.
The appeal court said the trial judge, Justice Jack Walsh, erred because he told jurors they could use the “lie” as evidence of Oland’s guilt, without adding they would also have to decide that it was concocted based on other evidence.
“Vigorous objection is voiced regarding the trial judge’s failure to specify what ‘circumstances’ had to exist before the appellant’s ‘lie’ could be considered probative of his identity as the murder,” wrote Drapeau.
The prosecution suggested in both its opening and closing statements to the jury that Oland lied about the jacket, and the argument may have been the clinching element for the conviction, Drapeau said.
“The deliberations lasted some 30 hours, and the ‘bare’ lie may well have provided the argument that brought to the Crown’s side one or more wavering jurors.”
The appeal court ordered a new trial.
Drapeau rejected a defence bid for an outright acquittal, saying it disagreed the verdict was unreasonable despite the absence of a “smoking gun” and the gaps in the prosecution’s evidence.
“The jury’s guilty verdict is neither unreasonable nor unsupported by the evidence,” Drapeau said.
The Crown has 10 days to review the ruling before making its planned application to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal. The defence has said it may ask the top court for an outright acquittal.
Richard Oland suffered 45 blunt and sharp-force blows to his head, neck and hands, although no murder weapon was ever found.
Dennis Oland, who is currently free on bail, is a former financial planner and a scion of one of the Maritimes’ most prominent families, the founders of Moosehead Breweries Limited. His uncle, Moosehead executive chairman Derek Oland, has repeatedly proclaimed his nephew’s innocence, as have other family members.