Skip to main content

Legal expert weighs in on Sudbury murder trial verdict, next steps

Share

As the dust continues to settle around Wednesday's verdict in the Renee Sweeney murder trial attention is now turning to what's next for the case.

Robert Steven Wright was found guilty of second-degree murder, a conviction that carries with it a life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years, and the defence is signalling that it could appeal.

Sketch of Robert Steven Wright on witness stand as he is cross-examined by the Crown attorney during his murder trial in a Sudbury courtroom March 14. Wright's second-degree murder trial was delayed again Monday due to COVID-19. (Sudbury artist Tarun Godara)

There was a large roar of approval upon hearing the verdict, and despite a warning from the judge, several Sweeney family supporters couldn't contain themselves.

After the four-second outburst, there were hugs, there were tears and it was clear this was a verdict they had been waiting for some time.

"We are ecstatic about the verdict that has gone down today. Renee Sweeney got justice today after what horribly happened 25 years ago," Kelly Irvine, a friend speaking on behalf of the family, told the media outside the courtroom after the verdict Wednesday.

Defence lawyer Michael Lacy declined to comment on camera, however, he did tell the media the Crown's closing statement was prejudicial.

Lacy said the case screamed reasonable doubts and will give appellate courts something to look at.

"I guess that's something Mr. Lacy will deal with," Crown attorney Rob Parsons told the media outside the courtroom after the verdict.

"I was content with the closing that the Crown presented. It's probably the best that I can say about it."

Sgt.Robert Weston, of Greater Sudbury Police Service, has been the lead investigator in the Sweeney case for the last decade.

"Mostly this day is about Renee. Twenty-five years later, she can finally rest in peace knowing the person responsible for this brutal attack, this brutal murder, has been held accountable by a jury of his peers," Weston said.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Second-degree murder carries with it an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years.

The jury made their recommendations for how long Wright should serve in prison before he becomes eligible for parole.

Each member gave their own recommendation ranging from 20 to 25 years.

However, the final decision will be up to the judge.

LEGAL EXPERT WEIGHS IN

Ari Goldkind is a criminal defence lawyer and legal expert unrelated to the case.

"We can learn about what the jury thought of Mr. Wright by the recommendations for parole ineligibility," Goldkind said.

"The judge turns to them and says 'how long until he can apply for parole?' They were all pretty harsh and most of them were over 20 years. Now, the judge does what the judge wants. The quickness of the verdict is something that stood out to me."

He told CTV News in a video interview on Thursday, the longer a jury stays out, typically it's better for the defence.

Behind the scenes, he said he believes there is very little left.

A date for sentencing is expected to be made next week.

The appeal part, however, could take months, if not years but there's a lot that has to be addressed including the Crown's closing arguments.

"There's probably going to be a lot of meat on the bone to this appeal," Goldkind said.

"That being said, most appeals do not succeed. The family has some closure now. A jury took 24 hours and you can be assured a court of appeal will be very live to that as well."

Goldkind said the court of appeal has specific timelines for the appeal process and both sides would likely want it done quickly.

A scheduling date for sentencing and victim impact statements is set for April 4.

CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca has been following this case since the beginning. Find all the previous coverage here.

We will continue to follow the case and provide updates.

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.

Find full coverage of the trial here.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

'Rust' armourer gets 18 months in prison for fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin on set

A movie weapons supervisor was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of the Western film "Rust," during a hearing Monday in which tearful family members and friends gave testimonials that included calls for justice and a punishment that would instill greater accountability for safety on film sets.

Stay Connected