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Crown tries to poke holes in suspect’s version of events day of Sudbury murder


A day after admitting he was in the Sudbury video store the morning Renee Sweeney was murdered, Robert Steven Wright was grilled by the Crown attorney on the specifics of his actions after he discovered the victim’s body.

Sketch of Robert Steven Wright on witness stand as he is cross-examined by the Crown attorney during his murder trial in a Sudbury courtroom March 14. Wright's second-degree murder trial was delayed again Monday due to COVID-19. (Sudbury artist Tarun Godara)

Crown prosecutor Rob Parsons tried to get Wright to account for the fact his DNA was found in debris linked to Sweeney’s fingernails.

Wright is on trial for second-degree murder in the death of Sweeney, who was found stabbed to death inside the Adults Only Video (AOV) store in a Paris Street strip mall in Sudbury on Jan. 27, 1998.

Monday, Wright testified that he didn’t commit the crime, but stumbled on the scene after he went to AOV after completing a high school exam at nearby Lockerby Composite.

The accused testified Monday he used his right hand to shake Sweeney’s left shoulder to see if she would respond. He said he then tried to feel a pulse on her wrist and put his ear close to her mouth to see if she was breathing.


Tuesday, Parsons asked how Wright’s DNA would have gotten on Sweeney’s fingernail debris.

"She never lunges out at you or anything like that?" Parsons asked.

"No," Wright said.

"I don’t recall how much of the hand I grabbed when I checked the pulse."

His DNA may have gotten on Sweeney when he was checking her pulse, he said, but he’s not sure.

"Specifically, I have no recollection of how that could have happened," Wright said.

"Generally, it’s possible from checking her pulse, that’s how DNA would have gotten there."

Justice Robbie Gordon reminded the jury that the Crown has the burden of proof to prove its case, not the accused. He told them not to draw inferences from the fact that Wright can’t account for DNA.

Parsons also questioned Wright about the discovery of his bloody jacket and gloves discovered not far from the crime scene.

Wright testified Monday that he removed them at the crime scene when he realized they had blood on them. He bundled them into a ball, Wright said, just before a young couple walked into the store.

At that point, he said he bolted out of the store, eventually dropping the jacket and gloves on a trail behind the strip mall.

Wright testified that the jacket and gloves he wore that day belonged to his father, but had become a jacket anyone in the family might wear.

Parsons asked whether he had seen the picture of the jacket and gloves sent out by police.

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: In 1998 Sudbury police say Renee Sweeney’s killer was wearing a teal blue nylon ski shell jacket at the time of the crime.

"I saw the pictures, yes," Wright said.

Did anyone in his family say, "holy cow, that’s odd," Parsons asked.

"No there wasn’t," Wright said. "Nothing."

When composite drawings were released, he said he remembers jokes being made about how the composite looked like some of his brother’s friends.

Paulette Taillefer's description formed the basis of the initial sketch released by police, left, and the couple from Laurentian University's descriptions form the basis for another police sketch, right. Robert Steven Wright confirmed Monday he was the person the sketches were based upon. (Composite Image by Dan Bertrand/CTV News Northern Ontario; source images supplied)

Parsons also asked him why he was carrying the jacket and gloves when he was running away when his goal was to flee as quickly as possible.

"Holding on to that actually slowed you down," he said.

"Possibly," Wright responded.

Parsons asked why Wright suddenly decided to discard the jacket and gloves as he ran away.

"Why discard them at this point?" he asked.

Wright said he was just then realizing he had fled a crime scene and that he had a bloody jacket and gloves with him.

Parsons asked if he then realized it was a crime scene, did he try to call for help or use a payphone to contact someone?

"At this point, it’s a crime scene -- you’re aware of that," he said.

"I was in flight mode," Wright said.

Parsons asked again about his actions when he first encountered Sweeney’s body.

"You yell out, ‘hey, are you OK?’ There was no response?" he said.

"You wanted to see if you could help?"

"Yes," Wright replied.

He testified Monday that he had been a boy scout for several years and that his first aid training kicked in when he found Sweeney lying on the floor.

Beyond checking her pulse and breathing, did he do anything else to help Sweeney, Parsons asked.

"You didn’t take the jacket and put it on Renee Sweeney’s neck wound?"

No, Wright said.

"You never place anything on the wound or try to do anything, is that fair?" the Crown attorney asked.

Wright agreed and said panic and fear began to overwhelm him at that point.

"Is this when the panic sets in?" Parsons said.

"Correct," Wright said.

Parsons then returned to the fact that Wright’s fingerprints were found on the top corner and bottom corner of the cash tray. Wright said Monday he remembers grabbing the counter to steady himself but doesn’t remember what he grabbed.

But said he was certain that he didn’t lift all the metal cash flips on the cash tray.

"I don’t know what I touched, but I did not lift the cash flips," he said.

Parsons asked him whether he got blood on his hands while he was checking Sweeney.

"It looks like a lot of blood," he said, showing a photo from the crime scene.

Wright said he believed the blood on the left cuff of his jacket got there when he removed it because he had to pull on the cuffs to remove it.

"You usually have to pull the cuffs," he said.

He denied going into the bathroom to clean up before he left – or going into the bathroom at the video store at all.

"I did not go to the washroom," Wright said.

Parsons suggested to him that he did enter the bathroom "and you came out of the bathroom with clean hands," something Wright again denied.

Wright flees the scene, Parsons said, with "no gloves on your hands, no jacket, no hat on -- correct?"

Yes, came the response.

When he ran past the young couple who came into the store after him, did he ask them to call for help, Parsons asked.

"No," Wright said. "I wish I had ... I’m not proud of it, sir."

"No, I can imagine," Parsons replied.

Parsons asked again why he stopped to collect his jacket and gloves before he left while he was desperate to flee the scene, saying all he wanted to do is get out of there and yet he grabs his jacket.

Then he dumps the jacket and gloves as he flees.

"I wasn’t thinking," Wright said.

"When I disposed of them, I was thinking. When I picked them up, I wasn’t thinking."

Parsons then suggested Wright needed the jacket to hold the items he had stolen from the video store and needed to get away with them.

Wright denied it.

The trial resumes Tuesday afternoon and digital content producer Darren MacDonald will have an update on the proceedings Tuesday evening. 

Find all of the previous trial coverage here.


The brutal stabbing death of 23-year-old Renee Sweeney rocked the City of Sudbury to its core on Jan. 27, 1998.

Police searched for her killer for two decades and finally charged Robert Steven Wright, who was 18 years old at the time of the murder. He has been held in jail since his arrest in Dec. 2018.

After several delays, the trial began Feb. 21, 2023, just after the 25th anniversary of Sweeney's death.

CTV News Digital content producer Darren MacDonald is bringing the latest from the courtroom every day and will have full coverage of the trial here. Top Stories

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