Testimony on day five in the trial Robert Steven Wright continued with the investigators on the scene, including the forensic officer who worked parts of the scene, as well as the officer in charge of the post-mortem examination.
Wright, now 43, was arrested in December, 2018, for the Jan. 27, 1998, murder of Renée Sweeney. Sweeney, a Laurentian University student, was found on the floor of the Paris Street video store where she worked. Wright was an 18-year-old high school student in 1998 who lived at home with his parents in Val Caron, but attended a high school a short walk from the plaza at 1500 Paris Street.**
The focus of March 1 was the physical evidence and the officers who processed it, but it began with continued testimony from retired GSPS officer Brian MacRury, who was a constable with the canine unit at the time of the murder. MacRury’s testimony began yesterday. You can read that here.
Cross-examined by defense co-counsel Bryan Badali, MacRury again detailed the track he took on Jan. 27, 1998, as his canine partner Oakey followed a human scent. MacRury testified that he believed that was the scent that Oakey should follow as it appeared to be footprints from someone running, and when Oakey caught the scent, he went hard after it, finding the jacket and the gloves that are now in evidence.
Next to testify was retired Sudbury Regional Police officer Scott Greenough, who was one of the officers who followed MacRury as he followed Oakey. Greenough testified that since MacRury’s primary role is following the dog, his is to offer security to both canine and handler while they work.
Greenough was shown photos of the jacket and gloves – what he described as white, cotton or canvas gardening gloves that had blood stains – were tucked further back into the rock than in his memory.
Lacy was incredulous. “I’m a little confused,” he said. “Are you suggesting they were moved?”
No, replied Greenough. “I just recall them being further in.”
Lacy asked if Greenough would notify other officers if he found evidence when he was following MacRury, who was his primary focus. Greenough stated he would, saying he wouldn’t just “stumble across something and just keep going.”
Lacy asked if Greenough or MacRury found anything other than the jacket and gloves while tracking with Oakey.
No, they both replied.
Then the jury heard from Todd Zimmerman, who worked for the forensic identification unit with the Sudbury Regional Police. He testified that on the day of the murder he obtained a search warrant for the video store at 1500 Paris Street, and delivered it to the officers at the location.
The next day, Jan. 28, Zimmerman testified he drove to Peterbourough to obtain a chemical called Leucomalachite green, which reacts with blood or bodily fluids that may not be seen by the naked eye.
When he returned to Sudbury, he sprayed the chemical on the white surfaces of the store’s two bathrooms: one used as a bathroom, the other, more a storage room, he said.
In the storage room, the chemical registered nothing. Though he did have a false positive in that room on a container of Comet cleaner, he later ruled it out in the lab.
Zimmerman sprayed the room that was the actual usable bathroom and found reactions on several surfaces.
As he testified, Zimmerman looked at images of the scene taken on Jan. 28, 1998, by Sudbury Regional Police officer Rick Waugh, also a forensic officer. In the images, a green tinge is visible on the back of the sink, where soap might be, and Zimmerman testified there were drops down the sink, indicating that blood had been washed down the drain.
He also found shoe prints on the ground with a Brooks running shoe logo on the bottom. After examining the shoes of everyone who had been on the scene previously, including witnesses Carol Gosselin and Dr. Krista Jonas, who attended to Sweeney after she was attacked, he excluded all of them as the source.
Crown co-counsel Rob Parsons asked Zimmerman about fingerprints. Zimmerman sighed heavily before answering.
“I regret this mistake,” he said.
Zimmerman testified that on Feb. 10, 1998, he had gone back to regular duties and was fingerprinting the people who had been arrested the night before.
One of those people was John Fetterly.
Zimmerman testified that when he took Fetterly’s print, there were several “points” that he recognized from the print taken from the cash tray at the scene of the murder.
Zimmerman testified he took this information to officer Bill Evanochko, who was working in fingerprint identification, and said Evanochko told him “that he ID’d the right thumb of Fetterly as making the imprint on the cash box.”
Zimmerman said Evanochko asked him to take a quick look at it. “When pushed, and it was my fault, I verified for Evanochko and passed it along to (primary investigator) Keetch and ultimately, Fetterly was arrested,” he testified.
Those fingerprints were then transported by then Sudbury Regional Police Sergeant Leo Thibeault to OPP headquarters in Orillia. A better image of the prints was created, and Zimmerman testified that when he saw these images, he knew he’d made a mistake.
He said some of the points he thought were matches were actually scratches on the cash tray.
“I know the fingerprint was not left on the cash tray by John Fetterly,” Zimmerman testified. “I have to live with that because I put someone in custody.”
Fetterly was released from custody with an apology from Sudbury Regional Police on Feb. 12, 1998.
Thibeault also testified today, as he was the officer who completed the evidence collection during the post-mortem, conducted in North Bay.
Crown co-counsel Kevin Ludgate went through the process of preserving evidence with Thibeault, noting seals were intact and confirming the methods used to collect and store evidence. At the time, Thibeault testified, it was brown paper bags, plastic containers similar to prescription pill bottles, and envelopes.
As Thibeault detailed the methods, the jury were shown photographs of Sweeney’s wounds, cleared of blood and showing the deep and gaping cuts and holes left in her body. The jury was largely silent as the images of the wounds were displayed for them.
Thibeaut noted 27 wounds, including to her neck, underneath her chin, as well as to her left hand. A photo of her hand was shown, with a deep and long incision through the entirety of the palm.
Thibeault testified he removed her clothing, the body bag and cloth used to cover her body and seized them into evidence.
Then he testified that he clipped the fingernails of her left hand, then her right, putting them in separate containers, though he could not recall which kind, envelope or bottle.
During reexamination, defense counsel Michael Lacy asked Thibeault if he used the same gloves throughout the post-mortem, even from hand to hand, to which Thibeault testified that he had. Lacy then asked about the possibility of using a swab on each finger, using a cotton swab to collect material to be tested. Thibeault said he had not done that.
Lacy also asked about another search, done by officers on May 28, 1998, after the snow had melted. Thibeault was present for this search, using a camera similar to a plumbing snake to look deep between the boulders where the jacket and gloves had been found a short distance from the murder scene. They checked only this area, but found nothing, said Thibeault.
Court finished today at 4:30 and will resume tomorrow, March 2, at 10 a.m.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at Sudbury.com.
**Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Robert Steven Wright lived with his parents within walking distance of the murder scene.