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Defence raises several questions about how police handled Sweeney murder investigation


The defence for Robert Steven Wright spent much of Tuesday criticizing elements of the Sudbury police investigation into the murder of Renee Sweeney.

Wright is on trial for the second-degree murder in Sweeney’s stabbing death Jan. 27, 1998, while she was working as a clerk at Adults Only Video in a Paris Street strip mall.

Retired officer Rick Waugh testified he received training in forensic work from the RCMP and was in his third year working on Sudbury police’s forensics unit at the time of the murder.

Defence attorney Michael Lacy asked Waugh if he was trained on ways to preserve evidence at crime scenes, such as the importance of wearing a special suit to ensure fibres from clothes don’t get mixed in.

Waugh said he wore his uniform that day, as he normally did at crime scenes.

When told another officer wore a special suit that day, Waugh said he didn’t remember that, adding it wasn’t an option.

“I did not have that available to me on Jan. 27, 1998,” he said.

Then Lacy asked him if he had procedures for changing his latex gloves as he made his way through a crime scene.

Waugh said he didn’t remember how often he changed them, but would put on new gloves when he felt it was necessary, such as when the ones he was wearing became stained.

“If I felt the gloves were contaminated in any way, I’d switch gloves,” he said.

“I have no memory of how often I changed gloves.”

Lacy also focused on the bathroom of the crime scene, where bloody footprints were discovered using a special substance that turns bodily fluids green.

The substance, LMG, also showed there was blood around the basin in the bathroom vanity, as well as dripping down into the drain.

Waugh testified earlier that he videotaped the entire scene and took photos to preserve as much evidence as possible, including in the bathroom.

“These were shoe prints deposited in blood?” Lacy asked, about what the LMG uncovered.

“Correct,” Waugh responded.

Lacy then pointed out that the video Waugh took showed a black coffee cup and a soap dispenser on the vanity, but they were missing in photos taken after the LMG was used.

Why were those items removed, Lacy asked.

“I don’t recall where the items were and when they were removed,” Waugh responded.

Considering the killer may have used the soap dispenser to wash up before leaving, Lacy asked whether the soap dispenser was swabbed for evidence.

“No sir,” Waugh replied.

“You never examined it for fingerprints?” Lacy asked.

This video still shows the black coffee cup and soap dispenser in the bathroom of the Adults Only Video store where Renee Sweeney was murdered Jan. 27, 1998. (Supplied)

“No sir.”

He then asked Waugh to confirm that the door lock on the exit to the store reacted for bodily fluids when tested with the LMG.

“Yes,” Waugh said.

“(And) you didn’t examine the locking mechanism for fingerprints or anything like that?” Lacy asked.

“No sir.”

Lacy then took issue with the way Sweeney’s remains were handled when they were removed from the crime scene.

Waugh then testified that, in handling the remains of a murder victim, he would only place the victim’s hands in paper bags in shooting cases to preserve any gunpowder residue.

It emerged earlier in the trial that Sweeney’s hands weren’t placed in bags and that her body was removed by specialists employed by the police.

“They are not police employees,” Waugh said, adding he wasn’t sure who employed them.

Lacy said the risk of contamination isn’t just from the outside, but that a murder victim’s own body can be a source.

For example, Lacy said Sweeney’s hand was on her chest in the crime scene photo, but that wasn’t the case during the post-mortem examination.

“How are her hands positioned when these two people were removing her?” Lacy asked.

“I don’t have any knowledge of that,” Waugh said.

Sweeney’s fingernails were clipped during the post-mortem and sent for analysis, but Waugh said that the Centre of Forensic Sciences told him Sweeney’s hands were covered in her own blood, making it nearly impossible to collect evidence from the fingernails.


The defence also focused on John Fetterly, who was arrested Feb. 10, 1998, for the murder but was released two days later.

Waugh testified Tuesday morning that he was shocked to find out Fetterly had been arrested since, in Waugh’s opinion, the bloody prints found on the cash tray at the video store didn’t belong to Fetterly.

Fetterly’s name also didn’t come up when the prints were sent to the RCMP.

But once the arrest was made, Waugh said he began to second-guess himself.

He even made a note claiming that he made the Fetterly identification, after pressure from another officer that he should take charge of the process.

“You fell into error by peer pressure,” Lacy said.

“Your notes contain false entries.”

“Yes,” he said.

Waugh said he went to a Walkerton, Ont., address associated with Fetterly, where he took several photos, including one of a prescription bottle beside a knife, both sitting on top of a direct deposit notice with a Sudbury address.

Other knives were also seized, but exactly how they were handled led to a testy courtroom exchange.

Waugh said even though he was in charge of handling exhibits, he received one of the knives from another officer on Feb. 17 and that officer got the knife from another cop Feb. 13.

Lacy asked him why are other officers were handling exhibits.

“You’re the exhibit officer – any explanation for that?”

“I can’t answer that,” Waugh said.

The trial resumes Wednesday morning when Lacy is expected to complete his cross-examination of Waugh. will continue to follow the court case and will have another update Wednesday. Find all of the 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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