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Defence witness describes identifying first Sweeney murder suspect from photo lineup


The defence in Robert Steven Wright’s second-degree Sudbury murder trial called witness Raymond Hutchinson to the stand Wednesday morning.

At the time of Renee Sweeney’s murder Jan. 27, 1998, Hutchinson worked at a computer store located in the same Paris Street strip mall as the Adults Only Video (AOV) store, where the fatal stabbing took place.

Sudbury police cordoned off the parking lot of the Paris Street strip mall where Renee Sweeney was murdered inside the adult video store that she worked at. (Supplied)

He testified he saw someone go inside the video store the morning Sweeney, a part-time clerk, was killed.

While he said he only saw the man for "a split second," Hutchinson told police he got a good look at him. He said he was walking up the sidewalk in front of the strip mall when the man opened the door to the store, forcing Hutchinson to move.

"Someone went into the Adults Only Video ahead of me," he said. "I had to stop as they went inside."

Hutchinson said he lived a few minutes away from the computer store, which was a couple of doors down from AOV. He said he got a call from his boss at 10:37 a.m. that morning asking him to bring him something to eat.

He estimated that he arrived at the mall sometime between 10:55 a.m. and 11:10 a.m.

The time is significant because the jury heard earlier in the trial that Sweeney had made a final sale just before 11 a.m., something she called and told the AOV store manager on Lasalle Boulevard.

"Do you recall giving any kind of statement to police officers at the scene?" asked defence attorney Michael Lacy.

Hutchinson said at first, he and his boss were told by police to remain inside the store.

When he realized later what had happened, it occurred to him that the person he saw that morning might be involved.

He was interviewed by police that day around 5 p.m., when he gave police a description of the person he saw. Hutchinson said he was about 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, scruffy looking with dark hair and a goatee, wearing a hat and a beige or light green winter coat that came down below his waist.

"The way his hair came down kind of covered his face," Hutchinson said. "I believed I would be able to recognize him if I saw him again."

When Lacy asked him if he had any reason to mislead the police, he said "no."

"Based on my memory, I felt I was being accurate, yes," Hutchinson said.

He provided a second statement Feb. 12, 1998, Hutchinson said, where police also asked him to look at 12 photographs and tell them if any of the men looked like the person he had seen going into the video store the morning of the murder.

Hutchinson picked out a photo of John Fetterly, who was the first suspect in the murder who had just been arrested in connection with the case.

"It looked like the person I saw," he said, but the photo was of someone who was clean-shaven. "I was drawn to that picture."

When he picked photo No. 3 -- Fetterly -- Hutchinson said one of the officers present exclaimed, "That’s the guy. He picked him."

"At that point, I feel like I know it’s him," Hutchinson said.

Lacy asked him if he had seen the composite sketches of the suspect police had released publicly.

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)

"I didn’t recognize the sketch, as far as it being someone I had seen," Hutchinson said.

"This sketch did not look like the person I saw."

He said the teal jacket police released photos of "was not similar" to the jacket he had seen.

This is photo of the stained teal jacket that Brian McRury and his canine Oakey discovered during the track on Jan. 27, 1998. (Supplied)

Charges against Fetterly were eventually withdrawn.

Hutchinson was also highly critical of Sudbury police when he gave them another statement in June 1999.

At that point, he said police accused him of lying and threatened him with charges.

There was a "lack of" dignity and respect from police, he testified.

"In my memory, that was a turning point," Hutchinson said.

"I would never do that again ... The way it was handled, the way I was treated … I would never volunteer what I felt was factual information (again)."

He insisted he was always truthful with police and told them what he remembered to the best of his abilities.

When asked whether he ever intentionally mislead Sudbury police, he said "never, no."

Assistant Crown attorney Kevin Ludgate began his cross-examination by having Hutchinson admit that he wasn’t sure exactly what time he saw the person entering AOV.

"You could make it in two minutes or less?" he asked.

"Yes," Hutchinson replied.

He told police in June 1999 that after the last conversation with his boss at 10:37 a.m., he quickly left and was at the mall within a couple of minutes.

"It’s so close, yes," Hutchinson said.

After received the phone call, he said he quickly made his boss something to eat using some bread and leftovers from the fridge and went to work.

"You got out of there quickly – and you got to work quickly," Ludgate said. "Is that a fair statement?"

"It would have taken me at least five minutes to get out of the building and across the street," Hutchinson said.

"If someone made a purchase at 10:46 a.m. -- you could have seen them going in before the purchase was made?" Ludgate said.

"Absolutely," he replied.

Ludgate asked whether he was sure the person he saw was not wearing glasses.

"You couldn’t say today … that that person was not wearing glasses. Correct?"

"I don’t remember seeing any glasses," Hutchinson said. digital content producer Darren MacDonald has been in the courtroom during the whole trial is providing daily updates and will have another story to follow as witness testimony continues Wednesday afternoon.

Find previous articles 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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