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Evidence against Sudbury murder suspect ‘overwhelming,’ Crown tells jury

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The Crown prosecutor in Sudbury made his pitch to the jury Monday afternoon in the Robert Steven Wright murder trial, arguing evidence against him is “overwhelming.”

Wright is charged in the stabbing death of Renee Sweeney on Jan. 27, 1998, at Adults Only Video in a strip mall on Paris Street.

“Robert Steven Wright murdered Renee Sweeney,” Crown prosecutor Rob Parsons told the 13 jurors, before rebutting many of the arguments the defence made in its closing arguments in the morning.

Defence attorney Michael Lacy presented an alternate suspect, John Fetterly, who was originally charged with the crime in February 1998 and then released.

Fetterly was obsessed with knives, jurors were told, and was charged with stealing pornography magazines not long after Sweeney’s death.

Porn magazines were also stolen at the Sweeney crime scene. Parsons said that appears to be incriminating, but it’s not.

“There’s absolutely no real physical or scientific evidence that supports the bald assertion that John Fetterly killed Renee Sweeney or that he was even in Sudbury,” he said.

Witness Ray Hutchinson did pick Fetterly out of a photo lineup, identifying him as the person he saw enter the video store sometime between 10:45 am and 11 a.m.

But Parsons said Hutchinson admitted to seeing the person for just “a fraction of a second” and the person he saw could have been the person who made a final purchase at 10:46 a.m., before Sweeney was killed sometime between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

“John Fetterly is a distraction,” Parsons said.

“Nothing, zero, comes back to John Fetterly.”

He said a witness puts him at his residence in Mildmay a night or two before the murder, 400 kilometres away. Fetterly didn’t drive and would normally come to town with his parents or take a bus.

Parsons then showed pictures of Fetterly taken after his arrest that don’t show any signs of injuries.

“His hands have no wounds,” he said.

While he was sure the defence was happy to hear he had been arrested for stealing porn magazines, Parsons said the cases were different.

Robert Steven Wright, seen in photos close to the time of Renee Sweeney's murder in January 1998, is on trial for second-degree murder in Sudbury. (File)

In that case, Fetterly was drunk and the clerk knew who he was. He grabbed magazines and he’s “so drunk he’s on the sidewalk outside store,” with the magazines falling everywhere.

He was almost immediately arrested and no violence was involved.

“John Fetterly had nothing to do with the murder,” Parsons said.

He then turned his attention to Wright, saying he and the jury have almost no idea “who Robert Steven Wright is.”

We know he was a boy scout with a motto of “be prepared,” Parsons said.

“The evidence before us is that Robert Steven Wright was prepared to take a life -- very prepared to take a life – very prepared to flee and prepared to hide evidence.”

He drew the jury’s attention to the young couple who discovered Wright hunched over Sweeney’s body. They gave a detailed description of Wright, Parsons said, leading to the composite sketch that closely resembled him.

Both of their names are covered by a publication ban.

The male witness in the case said Wright “was grabbing something and shoving it into some sort of bag,” Parsons said.

“What’s in the bag?”

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

How could someone come across a “horrific” situation, Parsons said, insist he was in shock but then be gathering something?

Both of the witnesses said there appeared to be something in the bag – it was bulging and stretched, like there were boxes inside.

“This is completely contradictory” to Wright’s evidence, Parsons said.

The male witness also said he saw Sweeney move her head to the right. Parsons pointed to evidence from pathologist Kelly Uren, who said Sweeney’s neck muscles were severed so she couldn’t move her head and would have bled out in a minute or two – and no more than five.

The fact the witness saw Sweeney move means she was still alive and had been stabbed within a few minutes, Parsons argued.

“That is incredibly powerful evidence from someone who observed it,” he said.

“Renee Sweeney is alive when (the male witness) sees her. She’s alive. Her head moves to the right.”

While Uren testified that with her neck muscles severed, it would be “near impossible” to move to the right – but not impossible.

SWEENEY FOUGHT BACK

“There is clear and compelling evidence that Renee Sweeney did many things to try and save her life,” Parsons said.

There’s no reason to think that one of her final acts “would have been any less remarkable.”

Parsons argued that Wright stabbed Sweeney, removed his jacket and gloves, went to the washroom to clean up, found Sweeney was still alive and was finishing her off when he was discovered.

Wright cleaned himself up “as much as he could – his face, his neck and his hands,” Parsons said, but couldn’t clean the jacket or the bloodstained gloves.

He also took issue with Wright’s recollection of events – crystal clear at some points, blank in others. For example, he remembers touching Sweeney’s shoulder and checking her pulse, but doesn’t remember where he fell back or what he braced himself on when he felt faint.

And nothing in his testimony, Parsons said, explained why a significant amount of his DNA got on Sweeney’s fingernails.

A few seconds of contact with her wrist isn’t likely to leave that much DNA on Sweeney’s fingernails, he said.

So it’s a “flight of fancy to suggest it got there through casual contact or contamination,” Parsons said.

Wright’s explanation for how his fingerprints got on the cashbox is also hard to understand, he said. Wright said he braced himself on something, yet his fingerprint was found under the cash tray and another on one of the change slots.

“I submit to you, that makes no sense,” Parsons said.

“We do know there’s $178.25 missing from the one area we know Robert Steven Wright touched.”

'WHY TAKE THE JACKET?'

Wright testified he fled the crime scene in a state of panic, yet he not only grabs his jacket and gloves first, he also cuts behind the video store after first running up Paris Street.

“Why take the jacket … if job No. 1 was to run as fast as you can?” Parsons asked.

As he passed witnesses, Parsons said Wright didn’t yell to them to call an ambulance, but instead made his way to Nepahwin Avenue and discarded evidence.

“There never was a panic, there was flight,” Parsons said.

“Panic is a useful fiction by Robert Steven Wright to explain why he didn’t do what anybody would do in that situation unless they are guilty.”

A person in panic might run across Paris Street without stopping, he said. Instead, Wright chose “an almost perfect path to allow him to escape.”

As for the porn magazines and sex toys that were taken, Parsons said Wright could have disposed of them anywhere, “but we don’t know.”

He also asked the jury to consider the amount of blood found on Wright’s jacket and gloves – the gloves in particular had a lot of blood on them.

Parsons argued that the amount of blood is not consistent with Wright’s testimony that he only touched Sweeney’s shoulder and checked her pulse.

After washing up, Parsons said Wright was ready to flee when he was discovered in the store.

ATTACKED IN THREE AREAS

The evidence is that Sweeney was attacked in three distinct areas of the store—and that she fought back.

Sweeney’s left hand was nearly severed with a defensive wound, Parsons said, while she used her right hand to scratch her attacker and get his DNA under her fingernails.

“Renee’s left hand has no DNA on it,” Parsons said, adding that Sweeney was sending a message about who killed her.

“Her right hand was also busy” trying to get evidence of her killer, “and she succeeded,” he said.

The next stage in the trial is instructions to the jury from Justice Robbie Gordon, which will happen beginning Tuesday morning.

The jurors will then begin their deliberations.

CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca continues to follow the trial from inside the courtroom and will provide updates Tuesday afternoon.

Find all of the previous coverage of the murder trial here

Background

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.

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