Witness testimony came to a close today, March 23, in the second-degree murder trial of Robert Steven Wright.
Though no witnesses took the stand, four agreed statements of fact were read into evidence. All four were in relation to John Brian Fetterly, the man who was originally arrested for the murder, but quickly released with apologies from police.
After reading the statement into the record, Justice Robbie D. Gordon told the jury that the trial was expected to finish soon, with closing arguments from the Crown and defense beginning Monday, March 27 and the Gordon’s jury instruction to follow on Tuesday, March 28. Gordon told the jury that they could begin deliberation as early as Tuesday afternoon.
Wright is on trial for the murder of Renée Sweeney, who was killed at the video store where she worked on Jan. 28, 1998. Wright was 18 years old at the time, and went to school within walking distance of the store.
In what has been described by witnesses as the largest police investigation in Sudbury’s history, the trial began with jury selection more than a month ago, on Feb. 21, with testimony beginning Feb. 23. That was the day the jury learned Wright would testify in his own defense.
Wright went on to testify on March 13 and March 14, stating he found a bloodied Sweeney lying on the floor of the store, and believing she was already dead, he said he panicked and ran.
He said the fingerprints found on a cash tray at the scene were his, as were the teal jacket and gloves that he testified to discarding after running from the store.
Following Wright’s testimony, an outbreak of COVID-19 sidelined many of the jurors, with court finally resuming today.
While the jury normally sits to the right of the judge, (to the left if viewing from the public seating) today they were split between seats on both sides of the courtroom. Many wore masks.
They did not have to spend much time in the courtroom; they were adjourned at approximately 10:30 a.m.
As part of four agreed statements of fact — a list of facts that both Crown and defense agree on, avoiding the need to call witnesses — the jury heard more evidence about Fetterly.
Fetterly was initially arrested for the murder based, according to testimony from former Sudbury Regional Police officer Rick Waugh, on an erroneous fingerprint identification. Fetterly was released with an apology in 1998 within days of his arrest.
The jury has also heard evidence regarding Fetterly from a statement by Pierre Rivers, introduced into evidence by defense co-counsel Michael Lacy, on Feb. 28. Rivers, now deceased, told police in 1998 that he knew Fetterly and was his community mental health worker.
In his statement, Rivers told police Fetterly “liked to talk about weapons, especially knives,” and had brought a knife to an appointment with Rivers and another worker.
Rivers stated that in an incident on Feb. 12, 1998, Fetterly had pulled a large “buck or pocket knife, about 4-6 inches” out of his pocket, “cuffing it by the handle,” but put it back in his pocket upon request.
The jury also heard about Fetterly on March 15 from witness testimony by Ray Hutchinson.
He testified he arrived at the plaza at 1500 Paris Street before the murder and saw a man enter the store. Hutchinson described the man as wearing “a bulky winter jacket, beige-ish green.” It had a hood and came down past his waist, he said.
He said the man was white, that he was “older, between 30 and 35,” and that he would be able to recognize him again if he saw him. He also stated the man he saw was not wearing glasses.
Hutchinson relied on his memory, which he admitted was not perfect, as well as three statements he made to police, on Jan. 27, 1998; Feb. 12, 1998, and; June 15, 1999.
It was during the Feb. 12, 1998 statement that Hutchinson testified he was asked to look at a photo array; The array included two pages with images of 12 men, six per page. When asked if any of the 12 was the person he saw enter the video store, Hutchinson chose photo No. 3.
Lacy then stated the photo he chose was John Brian Fetterly. Hutchinson said he believed the police told him that name at the time.
Hutchinson said he was bothered by the identification because of “how different (the photo of Fetterly) looked from the day in question.”
He said the officer conducting the array told him to consider “that people can change their appearance and to take my time and be patient. So when I decided that that was the person I felt I saw, I remember the officer showing another officer the lineup … and saying ‘he picked him, that's the guy, he picked him’,” said Hutchinson.
On cross-examination, Crown attorney Kevin Ludgate asked Hutchinson what time he saw the man, as there had been a customer purchase that day. “It’s certainly more than possible you could have seen that person going in before purchase was made,” Ludgate said.
“Absolutely,” replied Hutchinson.
Fetterly’s name was also a part of testimony from Tara Brutzki, manager of the biology department at the Centre for Forensic Sciences. She testified on March 9 that she could exclude John Fetterly as the source of the DNA on Sweeney’s right fingernails.
Also occurring on March 9 was testimony regarding the partial fingerprints on the cash tray, left in Sweeney’s blood.
OPP Sgt. Jeffrey Myatt, an expert in fingerprint identification, testified that while they never use the term “match,” as there is always the possibility of error in science, they consider it the same source if the chance it’s not is “so remote as considered a practical impossibility.”
He also testified that he cannot determine when or how the prints were left.
Myatt testified that he tested the two fingerprints, known as R-46 and R-127, against five unnamed fingerprint sets, called “exemplars,” that were sent to him by Greater Sudbury Police. He identified them as the left thumb and right index finger belonging to “exemplar four.” “Exemplar four is Robert Steven Wright,” said Myatt.
The first agreed statement of facts read into evidence March 23 was an attestation from Donna-Lynn Sévigny, the former spouse of Fetterly, with whom he shares a daughter.
Sévigny attested that she had given a statement to Sudbury Regional Police on Feb 19, 1998 that Fetterly had always had an obsession with knives and that he occasionally went out in public in possession of a knife.
She attested that he was “volatile” and that he was “nice one minute and a different person the next.”
Sévigny stated she had not seen Fetterly for two years at the time of Sweeney’s murder, and received a call from him in the days following the murder.
She attested that he called collect, saying he had come into some money and wanted to take Sévigny and their daughter “out for coffee.”
An agreed statement of facts concerning a theft in Walkerton was then read into evidence by Justice Gordon, stating that on Jan. 30, 1998, police were dispatched to a convenience store in Walkerton where several pornographic magazines had been stolen.
While on route, police spotted Fetterly, and attested that he was clutching something at his midsection. Police stated he was seen dropping magazines on the sidewalk and then seen kneeling over to pick them up.
He was arrested for theft.
Following the Jan. 30, 1998 arrest in Walkerton, the officer (no name given) noted that Fetterly was wearing Cooper brand running shoes. The person who left bloodied shoe prints at the store left imprints with a Brooks running shoe logo.
At the time, Fetterly told police he had not been back to Sudbury in “about a year.”
But a statement of facts from Fetterly’s mother, Alma, now deceased, contradicts her son’s statement.
On Feb. 10, 1998, Alma Fetterly was interviewed by now Retired Sault Ste. Marie Police Chief Robert Keetch, who was then a sergeant with the Sudbury Regional Police.
She stated she had last gone to Mildmay, where her son lived, in November, 1997, and that he had come back to Sudbury with her. She stated to Keetch that Fetterly had done his taxes in Sudbury in December 1997, then as he owed her money, she stated he left Sudbury, rather than paying, and she did not see him again until “Feb. 1 or 2, 1998.”
She stated he had bussed from Owen Sound, near Mildmay, to Barrie, and then hitchhiked the rest of the way.
She stated he did not wear glasses as he had “20/20 vision.”
The final statement was an attestation from Charlotte Kupferschmidt Gowing, who lived in the same apartment building as Fetterly on Absalom Street in Mildmay. She went by Kupferschmidt in 1998, she now goes by Gowing.
Gowing told police Fetterly was in his apartment on Jan. 26, 1998, the day before the murder. She stated she arrived home around 11:45 p.m. and said “she saw Fetterly looking out of the east window of his apartment in Mildmay. He had a few whiskers. That’s all she noticed. She couldn’t tell what he was wearing.”
She heard the sound of a TV coming from his apartment and she said she could still hear it when she went to sleep around 1 a.m.
“After completing her Feb. 12, 1998, statement, Ms. Kupferschmidt told the officer who was taking the statement that she was not sure if she saw Mr. Fetterly on the Monday night or the Sunday before that, Jan. 25, 1998.”
She didn’t see him again until Feb. 1, 1998.
Gowing also stated she had never seen Fetterly drive a car.
When asked ‘have you ever seen him in any cars?’ she attested that whenever she saw him he was walking. “One day I seen him hitchhiking towards Walkerton. That was before Christmas.’”
She added it takes two hours to walk to Walkerton from Mildmay.
When asked what Fetterly wore that winter, she said, “I know he had a jean jacket he wore all the time. He wore a sweater under it but I am not sure of the colour. I only saw him in white running shoes. I don’t recall seeing him with any gloves. He always wore a ball cap backwards on his head.”
And with that, the defence rested their case.
The trial will resume with closing arguments on Monday, March 27 at 10 a.m.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com.