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Fingerprint 'mistake' led to charge of first suspect in Sweeney murder

A former Sudbury police officer testified Wednesday that it was his mistake that led to the arrest and subsequent release of the first murder suspect in the Renee Sweeney murder case.

Todd Zimmerman was testifying at the trial of Robert Steven Wright, who is charged with second-degree murder in Sweeney’s death in Sudbury on Jan. 27, 1998.

The first person charged with the crime, John Fetterly, was arrested Feb. 10, 1998, and was later released.

Zimmerman testified that at the time of the murder, he was working in forensics.

He linked a fingerprint taken from the cashbox at the murder scene -- the Adults Only Video store on Paris Street -- to Fetterly.

"The fingerprint looked similar enough (that) it was important to have them examined," Zimmerman said.

After initially concluding that the right thumbprint belonged to Fetterly, he said he got a report from an RCMP specialist that raised questions.

Specifically, he said some scratches on the cashbox made it unlikely the identification would hold up in court.

"I’m already starting to see I may have made a mistake," Zimmerman testified.

He said he soon realized his error.

"I knew it did not belong to John Fetterly," he said.

"I didn’t take enough time to verify that."


Earlier in his testimony, Zimmerman said that on Jan. 28, 1998, he obtained a compound known as leuco malachite green (LMG), a substance that reacts to bodily fluids – including blood.

"You spray it on and it’s like a chemical reaction. It turns green," he said.

Zimmerman sprayed the substance in the washroom of the video store and uncovered a clear footprint of a running shoe with the brand name ‘Brooks’ clearly visible, spelled in reverse.

"It did react to blood and I was able to see the impression of a ‘Brooks’ running shoe pattern," he said.

He said he sprayed the toilet and the door, but didn’t get much reaction. But when he sprayed the sink, "he got a big reaction," he said

Blood was visible on the soap and the LMG showed streaks of blood running down the drain.

Inside the store, he got a reaction on the locking mechanism of the exit door, on a poster and a doorframe.

The thumbprint that led to Fetterly’s arrest was found on the video store’s cashbox after it was sprayed with LMG.

Shoe samples were then obtained from anyone who may have been in the bathroom, including staff from Country Bagel who had been in the store before police arrived and an off-duty ER doctor who had tried to help Sweeney after the attack.

None matched the footwear impression found at the scene, he said.


Earlier Wednesday, another police officer, Scott Greenough, testified that he helped with the canine track, led by Brian McRury, after the murder.

Canine dog track map after Sweeney murder (Supplied)

"My job was to ensure the canine and the handler were safe," Greenough testified.

His job was also to secure evidence uncovered by the canine track. During the track, he said they found a teal jacket and white gloves stuffed in some rocks.

"It was a pair of white gardening gloves," Greenough said.

"There was blood on those gloves."

Defence attorney Michael Lacy asked him why photographs from the scene show the jacket and gloves laid out when Greenough testified they were stuffed into the rocks.

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

"Are you suggesting the items were moved before they were itemized and photographed," Lacy asked.

"Did someone move it before it was photographed?"

Not that he knows of, Greenough replied, adding that he didn’t move them.

"I just remember them being more stuffed."

He agreed with Lacy that protocols require police not to move evidence until it is photographed.

Lacy then asked him if they would have noticed other items during the search.

"If someone dropped a weapon or sex toys or adult magazines, you would have noticed," the defence lawyer asked.

"Yes, of course," Greenough replied.

"Nothing like that was observed during the first track," Lacy asked.

"No," was the response.

The trial continues Wednesday afternoon and will have an update Wednesday evening. Find all of the Sweeney murder 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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