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‘I remember never getting a pulse,’ says off-duty ER doctor who tried to save Renee Sweeney

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An off-duty emergency room doctor testified Monday that she tried to help Renee Sweeney, but by the time she arrived, it was too late.

Dr. Krista Jonas was testifying at the second-degree murder trial of Robert Steven Wright, who is charged in Sweeney’s Jan. 27, 1998, stabbing death in Sudbury.

Monday was the third day of witness testimony.

Jonas said she was next door at Country Bagel the morning Sweeney was stabbed to death.

The doctor lived in Ottawa at the time, but would travel to Sudbury periodically to work in the emergency room of the former Memorial Hospital.

“I was just out on my day off for some fresh air – and some bagels,” she testified via Zoom.

Country Bagel was located in the same Paris Street strip mall that housed Adults Only Video, where Sweeney was killed at work. Jonas said she believed she arrived at the bagel shop in the late morning that day, but wasn’t sure.

That’s when people in the bagel shop began talking about a commotion at the video store.

“Someone had been stabbed,” Jonas said.

She said she and a bagel store employee headed to the video shop “where the woman had been stabbed.” Jonas said she was following her instincts to help where she could.

As soon as she entered, she said it “was obvious there had been a commotion.”

“I remember there being blood spatter and video cassettes all over the place,” she said.

Lacking latex gloves, Jonas found two plastic bags to cover her hands and went toward Sweeney, who was lying behind the counter.

“She wasn’t moving,” Jonas said.

Sweeney was stabbed to death sometime between 11 and 11:30 that morning. It emerged at trial that $178.25 was taken from the cashbox, along with three copies of the Puritan magazine. (Supplied)

She said she felt Sweeney’s pulse and found nothing -- her eyes were dilated and there were no signs of breathing. She said she also checked her carotid artery on her left side.

“She was warm to the touch and there was a big pool of blood there,” Jonas said.

“She had already died. There was nothing (I could do) to be helpful.”

The bagel shop employee had placed paper towels on Sweeney’s neck to try and stop the bleeding, but Jonas said that was ineffective because she had already bled to death.

When asked by Crown attorney Rob Parsons whether she had moved Sweeney’s head, which was facing her right shoulder, Jonas said she doesn’t remember moving her.

“My instinct is to not move someone” in that sort of situation, she said.

Once she determined Sweeney was dead, Jonas said she knew the area “became a crime scene.”

Parsons asked her if she remembered initially telling the bagel shop employee that Sweeney had a pulse.

Jonas said she couldn’t rule it out since the events took place almost 25 years ago, but she remembers concluding quickly that Sweeney had passed and was beyond help by the time she arrived.

“CPR is not going to help if there’s no blood in the circulation,” she said.

Defence attorney Bryan Badali emphasized that point in his cross-examination.

The Jan. 27, 1998, murder of Renee Sweeney, 23, shocked the city. (File)

“Your conclusion was … she was already dead?” Badali asked.

“Yes,” Jonas said. “I remember never getting a pulse.”

Parsons asked her whether it was possible she said there was a faint pulse, but then it was gone.

“I can’t tell you with certainty exactly what I said,” Jonas said.

The second and final witness to testify Monday was Carol Gosselin, who was the Country Bagel employee who placed paper towels on Sweeney’s neck to try and stop the bleeding.

Gosselin said she started work at 6:30 a.m. that morning and it was a busy day, as she finally got her lunch break at 11:30 a.m.

“It was a busy day for a Tuesday,” she said.

Not long after she sat down, a woman rushed into the store and said they needed to call 911.

Gosselin followed the woman outside to find out what was happening.

“(The woman) said to me, ‘I think there’s been a stabbing,’” Gosselin said.

"I asked her where, and she said 'at the adult video store.'"

She decided to go into the video store and see what had happened. Gosselin said she knew Sweeney because she was a regular at the bagel shop.

'WHEN I WALKED IN, I CALLED FOR RENEE'

“When I walked in, I called for Renee,” she said. “And there was no answer.”

She noticed there were videos and magazines strewn on the floor, then stains on the carpet.

“That’s when I found … Renee’s body laying there,” Gosselin said.

She said she headed outside, walked past the health food store in the mall and told someone there not to let anyone inside the video store.

She returned to the bagel shop, told her boss that Renee was hurt and went to her car to grab a first aid kit. Jonas joined her at that point and both went inside the video store.

“We tried to help her,” Gosselin said, speaking slowly with her voice cracking with emotion.

“There was nothing we could do.”

She put paper towels on Sweeney’s neck to try and stop the bleeding.

“I applied the pressure to the wounds that were visible to me,” Gosselin said.

Police and emergency medical personnel arrived minutes later and at 11:44 a.m., Sweeney was officially pronounced dead.

The trial resumes Tuesday morning. CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca will continue with full coverage throughout the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.

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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