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Plenty of surprises already at Wright’s second-degree murder trial

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After just one week, there have already been some major developments in the second-degree murder trial of Robert Steven Wright.

Perhaps the biggest is the fact Wright plans to take the stand to testify in his own defence. In addition, his defence team isn’t denying that he was there the morning of the killing, or that DNA found at the crime scene could be linked to him.

Wright is accused of killing Renee Sweeney, who was stabbed to death while working at a Sudbury video store at a Paris Street strip mall Jan. 27, 1998.

Crown attorney Rob Parsons and assistant Crown Kevin Ludgate provided a detailed narrative of events the morning Sweeney was killed.

After closing the store the night before, Sweeney was back at work the next morning at 9:30. She spoke on the phone with Fred Nurmi, manager of the New Sudbury location of Adults Only Video (AOV), three times that morning.

The first was before she did the regular bank deposit, just after 9:30 a.m.

Bank security cam photos show Renee Sweeney making a deposit Jan. 27, 1998, just before she was killed. (Supplied)

The second conversation took place an hour later as she bragged to Nurmi about making a sale so early in her shift. The sale totalled $89 and included two expensive magazines – called ‘Puritan’ – and two sex toys.

The final conversation was around 11 a.m., when she called looking for something to do.

“It’s not like a Walmart or anything,” Nurmi testified Thursday, of the number of customers they would get at AOV.

“You might get 12 for your whole shift.”

During that last conversation, Sweeney suddenly had to go because a customer came in.

“She indicated somebody came into the store,” Nurmi said.

“That was the end of the conversation.”

It was the last time they spoke. He got a busy signal when he called a little later and soon learned what happened.

He liked Sweeney, Nurmi said, and depended on her.

“She was about the best one I had in the store,” he said.

“She was a good employee. She was a sweet kid.”

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.

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)

On Friday, the court heard that two Laurentian University students were the first to discover the scene. The identities of the male and female witnesses are protected by a publication ban.

The male witness said that morning, he and the female witness -- his fiancée -- left LU and stopped at Country Bagel. Located in the same strip mall as the AOV store, the couple decided to rent a movie and walked toward the store along the mall’s sidewalk.

“The store looked empty ... There was nobody at the cash at the back right corner,” the male witness testified.

“Then I noticed there were some things knocked over from the shelves.”

That’s when he saw a man hunched over “someone else, kind of kneeling down.” He appeared to have a blue bag in his right hand.

“There was another person there completely laying on the floor,” he said.

“There was blood around that person.”

That’s when the man bolted, running past the man and woman and out of the store.

The female witness testified she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary at first when they entered the store.

She looked down briefly to knock snow off her boots.

“When I looked back up, there was somebody there,” she said.

“He ran out past the magazine racks … and then out the door … He was holding a bag in his right hand and pushed open the door with his left hand.”

Her first thought was that the man worked at the store and was chasing after a customer who had left their items behind.

“He was a smaller build,” she said. “Not a big guy. Younger – I would have given him 20s.”

Still unaware anything was wrong, she then noticed magazines and video boxes strewn on the floor and a big puddle.

“I assumed it was vomit,” she said.

Around the same time, witness Paulette Taillefer testified she had just left Country Bagel to drive to a nearby friend’s house.

The sidewalk outside the Paris Street strip mall. Witness Pauline Taillefer said she saw someone running along the sidewalk the morning Renee Sweeney was killed. (Supplied)As she was about to get in her car or had just gotten in her car – she wasn’t sure – she saw someone run past her along the mall’s sidewalk who headed right on Paris Street.

“I saw a boy running,” Taillefer said.

“The person was running really fast with a bag clutched to his side … I kept looking because he didn’t have a coat on.”

She said he was wearing just a white T-shirt with a blue or greenish bag tucked under his left arm, with his right hand helping secure the bag as he ran.

He looked at her, turned the corner of the bagel shop and headed right on Paris Street. She testified that he had short hair – almost a shaved head – was wearing glasses and she thought he was wearing jeans, but wasn’t sure.

“When he turned the corner, I didn’t see him after that,” Taillefer said.

'ALL I SAW WAS A WHITE T-SHIRT'

“All I saw was a white T-shirt.”

Then she saw a man and a woman looking “discombobulated” walk out of the video store.

“I thought, ‘that’s why (the young man in the T-shirt) is running – he stole her purse,’” she said.

Taillefer said she told them that the person she saw running was headed up Paris Street and then she left the area.

The male witness said he quickly led his fiancée out of the video store, went back inside to tell the victim on the floor he was going to get help, and left.

The female witness said she went to Country Bagel, who called emergency crews.

“There was a shooting,” she told them.

“Call 911 … Then the next thing I know, there are sirens.”

Taillefer and the two witnesses gave police a different description of the person they saw.

Taillefer said the person she saw had short hair, was clean shaven wore glasses. The man and woman, however, said his hair was longer, messy at the top, with a scruffy beard and similar glasses.

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)

Those two descriptions formed the basis for the police sketches that were release early in the investigation.

The trial is expected to last a total of six weeks and will resume Monday, where CTV News' coverage will continue.

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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