The jury heard from only one witness on a trial day that began with what Justice Robbie D. Gordon described to the jury later as “a matter that came to my attention that we needed to look into.”
It is day seven of the trial of Robert Steven Wright, the man charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Laurentian University student Renée Sweeney, who was killed Jan. 27, 1998 at her workplace, a video store in a plaza at 1500 Paris Street.
Wright was arrested for the crime in 2018 and denied bail four times since. There is a publication ban that covers those bail hearings. A publication ban and the rules of ‘voir dire’ – a separate hearing in which the judge makes rulings on the law and evidence when the jury is not present – limit the description of the events in the courtroom today.
Those in the courtroom March 6 were excused at 11 a.m. without the jury ever entering. Court resumed at 2 p.m. with further discussion and an in-camera session, before the jury was brought in.
Justice Gordon offered a basic explanation to the jury in regards to the delay. He said there was a chance “someone had intended to communicate improperly” with the jury, an action that could render the trial process “unfair.” But after investigation, he determined that not to be the case. “You do not have to concern yourself with it,” Gordon told the jurors. “But remember to decide this case based only on what you hear between these four walls.”
The justice also added information to the record.
On Thursday, March 2, day six of the trial, the jury heard from pathologist Dr. Kelly Uren, who had performed the post-mortem on Sweeney. Gordon said that co-defense attorney Michael Lacy had neglected to ask a question of Uren, and rather than have him return to testify – he currently lives in Nova Scotia – Gordon would read into evidence testimony provided by Uren regarding post-mortem body temperature; namely that following death, a body can remain warm to the touch for an hour if not longer.
As well, Uren added that while there are always “exceptions and mitigating circumstances,” it would be “safe to say body temp would be close to normal for the first hour or so” after death.
On Feb. 27, Dr. Krista Jonas, who testified that she attempted to offer first aid to Sweeney but “couldn’t get a pulse,” included the information that Sweeney had been “warm to the touch,” indicating she attended to the victim within the window described by Uren.
The only witness to testify today, retired police officer Rick Waugh, came to the stand at approximately 3:30 p.m. to begin what Crown co-attorney Kevin Ludgate said was the beginning of extended testimony.
Waugh is a retired Sudbury Regional Police and Greater Sudbury Police officer of 30 years, who at the time of the murder was a constable in the forensic unit. He worked under Leo Thibeault, who testified on March 1.
Waugh testified that when he arrived on scene he met with Sudbury Regional Police officers Fennel (no first name or rank was provided), then Sergeant Robert Keetch and then Patrol Officer Jason Katz, the latter of whom testified on Feb. 28 about what they saw.
He said he did a cursory search of the scene, “saw the deceased behind the counter, and the disturbance at the near back of the store,” before he was made aware of blood evidence outside the store, he said. Waugh testified that he photographed and collected that evidence first as he was concerned that it might disappear in the snow.
In relation to the entrance of Adults Only Video, the scene of the murder, Waugh said the first location of blood transfer, labelled R-1, was “in the snow on sidewalk that ran east-west in front of strip mall, located between the door of Pizza Joint and Debritz Jewelry, 18 metres and 10 centimetres from front door. Another moved further west down the sidewalk.”
Blood evidence was found in two other locations in the parking lot, he testified. Waugh said if you opened the video store door and walked straight, but in a “slight southerly direction,” the two additional transfers were approximately 20 metres from the door.
He believed one transfer was from a shoe. On March 1, forensic officer Todd Zimmerman testified that he collected a shoe print from the bathroom of the video store, marked in blood.
Waugh also testified that when dispatch relayed to him that the canine-unit-team of Oakey and Officer Brian MacRury had found a jacket and two white gardening gloves that appeared to be stained with blood, he went to the location near the plaza where the items were found. Waugh testified he was the one to photograph the evidence and place it into a paper bag to be put into evidence.
Waugh will continue his testimony tomorrow, March 7, when court resumes at 10 a.m.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at Sudbury.com.