The entirety of day 14 of the Robert Steven Wright murder trial belonged to one witness, a man who told police in 1998 he had seen someone else go into the Adults Only Video store on Paris Street, where on Jan. 27 of that year, Renée Sweeney was murdered.
Arrested in 2018, Wright is currently on trial for the second-degree murder of Sweeney, who was stabbed 27 times while working at the video store. Sweeney was a Laurentian University student at the time of her death while Wright was an 18-year-old student at Lockerby Composite School, which was within walking distance of the store where Sweeny worked, located in a plaza at 1500 Paris Street.
Wright testified on his own behalf on Monday (March 13) and Tuesday (March 14.) He stated 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 also admitted the fingerprints in Sweeney’s blood that were found on a cash tray at the scene were his, as were the teal jacket and gloves that he later testified to discarding after running from the store. They were discovered by police.
Today, March 15, defence co-counsel Michael Lacy called to the stand Raymond Hutchinson, who lived in Sudbury in 1998 and now lives in southern Ontario. Hutchinson testified virtually.
A 21-year-old at the time of the killing, Hutchinson said he worked at the computer service shop two doors down from the Adults Only Video in the same plaza.
He testified he went to the same school as Sweeney, Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, but she was a few years older and his girlfriend at the time was friends with Sweeney.
When Lacy asked if he recalled the day Sweeney was killed, Hutchinson replied, ”I remember some of the events, some of the details, but not specifically, it's been a very long time.”
Hutchinson testified that he lived across from the plaza, though the exact address he provided is covered under a publication ban.
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.
Hutchinson testified he told police at the time he was walking to work at the computer shop along the sidewalk that runs in front of the stores of the plaza, telling police on Jan. 27, 1998, that he arrived at the plaza sometime between 10:55 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. on the day (this timeline will become significant on cross-examination by the Crown).
As he walked along the sidewalk that runs in front of the stores in the plaza, Hutchinson said his head was down. About to walk past the Adults Only Video store, Hutchinson said another man was suddenly in front of him, and he almost walked into the door of the video store as the man opened it to enter. He did not see where the man came from.
Hutchinson looked at the man in the face and said he stepped to the right to avoid him as the man entered the store. Hutchinson said he continued on his way to work.
Lacy asked Hutchinson to describe the man to the jury, as he had described him in 1998 to police. Hutchinson said the man was hunched over, a little taller than himself, “between five-foot-eight and five-foot-nine.” The man’s appearance was “unkempt” with dark hair and dark eyes. Hutchinson also said the man was wearing a hat.
Lacy asked if the man was wearing a jacket, to which Hutchinson responded the man was wearing a jacket, describing it as “a bulky winter jacket, beige-ish green.” It had a hood and came down past his waist.
Hutchinson said he was unsure if the man had a goatee “just because of the way the hair came down, it kind of covered his face,”
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.
When asked about eyewear, Hutchinson said, “I didn't notice. I don't think so. I'm pretty sure if he was wearing glasses I would have remembered.”
Hutchinson testified he was within a “couple of feet to a metre” away from the person he saw.
Hutchinson said he did not initially think anything of it, and it was several hours after the murder he first reported to police that he had seen a man going in.
Lacy then showed Hutchinson the composite photo created by the male and female witness who identified a man running past them out the door. Wright has admitted to being the man the witnesses saw.
“Do you recall seeing any kind of sketch in the newspaper related to this matter,” asked Lacy. Hutchinson said he had.
“Did you recognize that sketch at all?” Lacy asked.
“I didn't recognize the sketch as far as being someone I had seen,” Hutchinson replied, but noted the person depicted in the composite image appeared younger than the man he saw, in his estimation.
Hutchinson testified he was asked by police on Feb 12, 1998, to come to the station to look at a photo array to see if he could pick out the person he saw. Before taking him to the station though, he said the officer who picked him up took him to the courthouse to look at someone there, but when they arrived he was told “they missed him.” Hutchinson could not recall the officer’s name.
Hutchinson was then taken to Sudbury Regional Police headquarters and asked to look at the 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.
“I mulled over two of the photos, but was drawn to that picture (Fetterly’s),” said Hutchinson.
This is significant because 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.
Hutchinson said he was bothered by the identification because of “how different [the photo of Fetterly] looked from the day in question.”
Hutchinson said the image in the photo array was of a clean-shaven man with short hair.
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.
Hutchinson said his initial indecision was turned to full confidence by the reaction of the police.
Lacy then inquired if Hutchinson was asked to sit with an artist for the creation of a composite image. Hutchinson said he had not been asked.
Then more than a year later, on June 15, 1999, Hutchinson was asked by Sudbury Regional Police to come to the station again and make a statement. No testimony was given as to why he was called.
Lacy about his treatment by police during his second visit. Hutchinson was firm — he would “never volunteer information to police again” unless it was in relation to something that involved him or his family.
He was treated, he said, with a “lack of dignity and respect” by police. Hutchinson said since his Feb. 12, 1998, interview, he had become uncertain about his identification of Fetterly as the man he saw enter the video store the day of the murder. When he mentioned this uncertainty to police, he said officers accused him of lying about his identification of Fetterly.
Hutchinson said he still feels that he was mistreated.
“The fact that it’s 25 years later and we're still here just confirms that for me.”
When it was Crown attorney Kevin Ludgate’s turn to cross-examine Hutchinson, he focused on the amount of time it took for Hutchinson to get to his workplace that morning and the length of time he saw the man. Hutchinson testified it was a brief interaction, but that he saw the man’s eyes fully.
Hutchinson also testified he had made an error in his initial statement to police on Jan. 27, 1998. At that time, Hutchinson stated that he believed he arrived at work at between 10:55 and 11 a.m. on Jan. 27, 1998. However, in response to Ludgate’s questioning, he said when he got home from work that day and checked the call display on his home phone, he saw that he had actually spoken to his boss at 10:37 a.m. His boss, a family friend, asked him to come in to work, which he did.
“Arguably it would have taken me at least five minutes to get out of the building and across the street,” said Hutchinson, saying he would have jay-walked rather than walking to the next crosswalk.
Given the short distance between his home and the plaza, this means he could have arrived much earlier than 10:55 a.m.
Ludgate suggested to Hutchinson that rather than seeing the person who may have committed the murder, he may have instead seen the customer who made the purchase at 10:46 a.m., which is in evidence.
“It’s certainly more than possible you could have seen that person going in before purchase was made,” Ludgate said.
“Absolutely,” replied Hutchinson.
This is somewhat consistent with testimony on Feb. 23, the first day of witnesses. Fred Nurmi, the manager of the Adults Only Video on Lasalle Boulevard, testified Feb. 23 that Sweeney had called him at 10:30 a.m. to brag jokingly about a sale she had made for $89.53. Nurmi ended that call when a customer came into his store, but called Sweeney back at around 11 a.m. She ended that call when a customer entered, sometime after 11 a.m. The first witnesses on the scene testified they arrived at the store at between 11:30 and 11:40 a.m. on the day of the murder. Sweeney was pronounced dead at 11:44 a.m. on Jan. 27, 1998.
On redirect, Lacy asked Hutchinson if he thought his memory was better now, or in February, 1998. Hutchinson paused a long time before answering.
He said his memory might have been better “at the time” but was worse now because memory “degrades.”
Lacy asked, “Were you lying to police on Feb. 12, 1998?”
“No,” Hutchinson replied.
At the end of the day, an agreed statement of facts was read into the record by Justice Robbie D. Gordon.
Former Officer Rick Waugh testified that exhibit R-22, the shoe print with the partial word ‘ooks’ on it had been left on a video box in the store. Gordon stated that while Waugh used a technique to lift the shoe print to be photographed, he photographed one side of the box, but did not take a photo of the shoe impression on the box.
Court will resume at 11 a.m. tomorrow, March 16.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at Sudbury.com.