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Crown secures direct indictment in Sweeney murder case, meaning it goes directly to trial

Defence lawyers say it takes away Robert Steven Wright's right to prove insufficient evidence
Former Sudbury resident Robert Steven Wright faces a charge of first-degree murder for the 1998 killing of Renée Sweeney, a cold case that suddenly broke wide open in 2018 when Wright was arrested. (File)

The Crown Attorney's office has been successful in its effort to authorize a direct indictment for second degree murder for the man accused of killing Renee Sweeney.

The Ministry of the Attorney General is allowing the direct indictment against Robert Steven Wright, meaning there will be no preliminary hearing — originally scheduled for November — and the case will go directly to trial.

“When the defendant is subject to a direct indictment and deprived of a preliminary hearing, the defendant loses the right to argue that there is insufficient evidence for the matter to even go forward to trial,” said a release from Wright's lawyers, Berk Keaney and Michael Venturi.

“Perhaps this is a good time to remember that, in our country, we have something called the presumption of innocence. When this case gets to trial, the jury will be instructed by the trial judge that Mr. Wright is presumed innocent, and that they jury should not consider a verdict until they have heard all of the evidence.”

A conflict of interest hearing to remove Keaney and Venturi as counsel will have to be rescheduled as a result. The hearing had originally been set for Aug. 27. The Crown has not revealed its reason for filing the application.

Wright, 38, remains in jail after being denied bail in March. He was arrested Dec. 11, 2018, and was originally charged with first-degree murder. No reasons were given explaining why he now faces second-degree murder charges. Wright was working as a laboratory technician at North Bay Regional Health Centre.

A publication ban prevents publishing evidence presented at the bail hearing.

Sweeney was 23 when she was brutally attacked and killed on Jan. 27, 1998. She was working at an adult video store on Paris Street. Her attacker stabbed her multiple times.

Wright was 18 at the time of the murder. He was a student at Lockerby Composite School.

Over the 20-year investigation, Greater Sudbury Police Service received more than 2,000 tips and eliminated more than 1,500 people as suspects. Numerous appeals were made to the public for information that might lead to an arrest. Investigators released photos of what the suspect might look like.

Greater Sudbury Police Chief said during a press conference following Wright's arrest that Sweeney's murder was never considered a cold case, and the police service was always determined to solve the murder.

GSPS Det. Sgt. Sandra Dicaire said at the time of the arrest detectives had identified a person of interest, and through investigative techniques, gathered forensic evidence, which provided reasonable grounds to arrest Wright and obtain a search warrant. has requested information from the Ministry of the Attorney General on its decision to allow the direct indictment. Check back for details when they become available.