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Sweeney murder trial Day 2: First witnesses on scene testify

Witnesses testify they entered the video store where the victim worked minutes after the stabbing had occurred and seeing a man over Renée Sweeney’s body

Witnesses to the immediate aftermath of the stabbing of Renée Sweeney testified in a Sudbury courtroom Feb. 24, during day two of the second degree murder trial of Robert Steven Wright.

Jurors heard from two individuals who were the first to discover the Laurentian University student on Jan. 27, 1998, following her stabbing at Adults Only Video, a business long since closed that was located at 1500 Paris Street. 

It was also the first time that the jury and those watching the case saw a photo of Sweeney’s body on the floor of the video store where she was an employee.

However before getting to that testimony, the Feb. 24 court hearing began with the exclusion of a juror.

“A juror identified a connection to Sweeney that may make them unable to preside in an unbiased and fair manner,” said Justice Robbie. D. Gordon. The jury is now down to 13 — 12 jurors and one alternate. 

The names of the two witnesses who testified today are covered by a publication ban.  

Both testified virtually. 

The two witnesses, a man and a woman who were engaged at the time and are now married, arrived at the plaza together after attending class at Laurentian University. They came in the same car, with the woman driving. 

Before heading to the Country Bagel store located in the same plaza as the video store where Sweeney worked, the couple decided to go to the video store first to check out a celebrity sex tape. 

They both told the jury they noticed nothing unusual on the exterior of the store, arriving between 11:30 and 11:40 a.m. that morning. 

The two stepped in, and both testified the woman was on her fiancé’s left side entering the store. The male witness said he noticed something right away; the female witness said she saw nothing at first, having looked down to knock the snow from her boots. 

The male witness testified he saw videos and magazines on the floor in front of a stand as though they had been knocked off. When he looked over the stand, he said he could see someone “hunched over someone else, kind of kneeling down.”

He said he saw a man squatting in front of a person laying on the floor, holding what appeared to be a blue bag in their right hand. “It looked like they were gathering something,” he said.

“There was another person there completely laying on the floor. There was blood around that person.”

When the man noticed the witnesses, the person bolted from the store, running past them.

The female witness added that he opened the door with his left hand. 

The witnesses provided matching descriptions of the man in considerable detail as they said he was close to the male witness as he exited the store. They said he had short, unkempt hair, “messy on top,” and he was wearing oval, thin-rimmed glasses. The man had a couple days’ of beard growth on his face, they said.

The couple worked with an artist to create a composite of the man they saw. That image was shown in court today. 

Both witnesses testified that he was wearing a gray or long-sleeved shirt with a hood, lightweight and potentially made of cotton.  

The male witness was asked about the location of the man in relation to Sweeney’s body, and that is when the jury and witness was asked to look at the image of the body. Her face was not shown. 

Defense counsel Michael Lacy and Bryan Badali each cross examined the witnesses, focusing on the amount of time the two saw the individual run past them, confirming the details they reported to police about the man’s appearance, and then asked a series of questions about what else they may have seen. 

As the two witnesses included details including the length and colour of his hair, estimated weight, age (young twenties, she said), shape and colour of his glasses (oval, dark and thin wire frames), Lacy asked if they noticed other features, such as marks, tattoos or scratches. He also asked about a weapon.

“If you saw someone bringing a knife down, you would have described that to police?” Lacy asked.

“Of course,” the witness replied.

Upon re-examination, Crown attorney Kevin Ludgate asked the male witness, “Did you get a similar type of view of his neck? His hands? His chest? His arms? His back?” The witness replied no to each question.

The male witness said he felt faint from the sight of blood. He went toward the person lying on the floor and called out that he was going to get help and then ran to a nearby business to tell them to call police and medical personnel.

He testified that when he told Sweeney he would get help, he thought she moved her head slightly towards her right shoulder. He said he did not attempt to touch her, check her vitals or offer first aid, but instead left to call for help. 

He said he was concerned about his fiancé, and made sure she was out of the store before approaching the counter where the blood had pooled. 

The female witness tells a slightly different version of events. She testified that her now-husband came towards her, pale and feeling faint, and he left ahead of her. She followed him out the door and went to the County Bagel to call an ambulance.

There was also questioning about the item that the individual fleeing the scene was carrying. Today, the two witnesses testified that it was a small bag, and they both believed there were items inside. In fact, the female witness said she first thought the person running was an employee trying to catch a customer who had forgotten an item. 

But later, when shown a photo of the jacket found by police on Walford Road Jan. 27, 1998 and asked if it was possible that the jacket is what they saw, not a bag, they both agreed it was possible. In court today, they both testified it was a similar, light colour blue, and that they did not believe it was the same item.  

The case will resume at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 27. 

For details on the first day of trial, click here


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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