For Kim Sweeney, this day was 7,623 days in the making. She had waited that long to say her peace, she said in her victim impact statement as part of the sentencing hearing of Robert Steven Wright. Wright was found guilty of the second-degree murder of Renée Sweeney on March 28.
“There were 7,623 days of personal torment, of fear each and every day, every morning waking up from a sleepless night,” Sweeney told the court. “The debilitating fear I carried not knowing who murdered Renée and why anybody could be so savage, to do what they did to her.”
Wright was found guilty of the second-degree murder of Sweeney on March 28 after a five-week trial. He has been incarcerated since his arrest in December 2018, when he was charged with stabbing her 27 times at her workplace on Jan. 27, 1998, and causing her death.
Though his decision will not be released until June 29, Gordon heard submissions from counsel May 19 regarding Wright’s parole eligibility. Prosecutor Rob Parson and Kevin Ludgate recommended 18 years before Wright could apply for parole; defence co-counsel Michael Lacy and Bryan Badali requested 10, and submitted 30 character references for Wright. The court was as full as it was during the trial, but this time, six jury members sat in the gallery, watching the proceedings.
Wright will next appear in court on June 29 at 9 a.m. for the judge’s sentencing decision.
In his decision, Gordon stated he would consider the law, the victim impact statements, and the jury recommendations, a majority of which recommended more than 20 years before Wright could apply for parole.
As Kim Sweeney tearfully recalled her life for the last 25 years, she described the fear she carried, and the distrust and suspicion she had for every person. Not just that, but the constant reminders of her sister’s murder.
“There was a poster that hung at every entrance and every building,” she said. “I appreciate the effort, but I had to look at the jacket that was covered in the blood of my sister and no one would come forward.
"I still don't know why he did it, but I know who killed Renée," Sweeney said directly to Wright.
She told the judge her mother, Carole (Sweeney) Strachan, took her last breath in Kim’s arms without ever knowing who took her child. Before Renée Sweeney was killed, Strachan was struggling with multiple sclerosis, but using a walker. After learning of her murder, Sweeney told the court that her mother never walked again. She died in 2016.
“My kids were robbed of an aunt, I was denied a sister to help when our mother died,” said Sweeney. “Because of Robert Steven Wright, because of him (she pointed at Wright), I don’t have any of that. Because of him, my trust in anyone is gone. Because of him, I realize that anyone, at any age, is capable of something. Because of him, I lived over half my life in fear.”
Friends of the family and of Renée herself spoke of how grief and trauma have affected their lives, some submitted letters and the court was shown a video featuring Sweeney family photos with the song The Rose, sung by Carole Strachan herself. The video caused many in the court to erupt in shuddering tears.
During her speech, Sweeney’s paternal aunt, Colette Kelly, raised her voice significantly and yelled at Wright: “May God have mercy on your soul.”
As they did during trial, the Wright family and Robert Steven Wright’s loved ones stood each time he was brought into the court, this time in shackles. He was seated in the prisoner’s box for the first time, having spent the trial seated at the defence table with counsel.
Wright was slightly disheveled in comparison to his previous courtroom appearances, with his collared shirt open revealing another long sleeve underneath which was rolled up at the cuffs. His beard was significantly longer than during the trial.
Wright has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, testifying that he happened upon Sweeney already dead and fled out of fear. Each time Parsons spoke to specifics of the case today during his submissions, Wright would shake his head vehemently, as though denying key facts of the case that the court accepted.
In his statement, which Wright read before the court, he stated “I would like to express empathy for the Sweeney family and friends, no one should have to go through losing a loved one,” he said. “I empathize with their anger, sorrow, sadness and loss; however, I am not responsible for those. I did not kill Renée Sweeney, that is the truth and always will be.”
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at Sudbury.com.