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Trial hears details of how DNA led to arrest in Sweeney murder case


A Sudbury jury was told Wednesday that advances in DNA technology and an offer from a U.S. laboratory led Sudbury police to make an arrest in the Renee Sweeney murder case.

Greater Sudbury Police Sgt. Robert Weston told jurors details of exactly how police ended up charging Robert Steven Wright with second-degree murder in Sweeney’s death more than two decades after the crime.

Sweeney was stabbed to death Jan. 27, 1998, while working at an Adults Only Video store on Paris Street in the city. One person – John Fetterly – was charged in the case Feb. 10, 1998, but was released two days later when police said they made a mistake.

When Wright was charged in the case in December 2018, police made reference to DNA evidence being key.

On Wednesday, Weston testified that he agreed to assume the role of lead investigator in the case in October 2013.

He said had to review 15 years of case files to get up to speed.

“The Renee Sweeny homicide is the largest criminal investigation ever undertaken by Sudbury police,” Weston said.

Over the years, he said they received more than 2,000 tips and ruled out 1,600 potential suspects through DNA testing and “other means of investigation.”

In total, Weston said he inherited “100 banker boxes of case files.”

Like Sweeney, he was a Laurentian University student at the time and he said the case sent shockwaves across campus.

“I remember being a student in 1998,” Weston said.

“I was going to Laurentian at the time and everyone was talking about it.”

Widespread media coverage ensured the case “was always in the public’s eye,” Weston said.

He agreed to become the lead investigator in 2013, even though he had to take on the case in addition to his existing caseload and his duties to supervise three other officers.

In 2014, he was contacted by the Centre for Forensic Sciences (CFS), who told Weston they were doing a “cold case review” of the Sweeney file.

He was told that advances in technology meant the CFS was able to identify DNA from the crime scene.

In summer 2016 while he was on holiday, he read about a case in the U.S. in which a couple had been murdered. A lab was able to create an image of the suspect using DNA recovered from the scene.

“I thought that was pretty neat,” Weston said.

In September 2018, the lab – Parabon Nanolabs – offered to do an “ancestral test” of the DNA recovered from the Sweeney crime scene.

Sudbury police agreed. That test narrowed down the DNA as coming from two families – the Secord family and the McAllister family.

At that point, Weston met with the woman who had compiled the family tree on the Secords, and later with the person who compiled the information on the McAllisters.

Both had extensive information on each family tree, Weston said.

The investigation led them to a family living in Greater Sudbury – Robert and Wendy Wright, who had two sons. One of those sons, Steven Wright, born in July 1979, was charged Dec. 11, 2018, with Sweeney’s murder.

Robert Steven Wright was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the murder of Renee Sweeney.

“I was the arresting officer,” Weston said.


After Weston’s testimony, Justice Robbie Gordon told the jury that Weston had only provided a narrative to explain how police came to charge Wright.

He said that information can’t be used to determine guilt or innocence.

“It’s there to help you understand how we got from point A to point B,” Gordon said.

Earlier in his testimony, Weston gave several examples of how police regularly issued news releases and even set up a website asking people to submit information either directly to them, or anonymously through Crime Stoppers.

The first witness to testify Wednesday was Rick Waugh, a forensics officer with Sudbury police at the time of the murder.


Waugh revealed he had been “transitioned” off the case after Fetterly’s mistaken arrest.

Waugh testified earlier in the week that he had falsified a note that said he had ID’d Fetterly’s fingerprints from the crime scene, when in fact it was someone else.

“That was the reason, yes,” Waugh said, when asked why he was taken off the case.

Waugh said he had travelled to an address associated with Fetterly in Walkerton, Ont. That prompted an exchange with defence attorney Michael Lacy, who wondered why Waugh’s notes said it took him 7 ½ hours to drive from Sudbury to Walkerton..

If he drove straight there, as Waugh testified, Lacy asked why a 4 ½ drive took so long.

“It can’t be that you drove straight through,” he said.

“My memory tells me we went directly there,” Waugh said.

“I went home to get an overnight bag. That may account for some of the time ... I can’t account for 7 ½ hours.”

Lacy also had Waugh confirm that testing didn’t find any blood or fingerprints on the metal springs on the cash tray that flip up and down to hold the money in place.

Court heard earlier that bloody prints were found on the cash tray itself at the video store.

Waugh said he used a test involving a special type of glue chamber.

“The glue vapors in the chamber settle on anything with moisture – sweat or a fingerprint or any other liquid that is there,” he said.

That test didn’t find anything on the metal springs, Waugh confirmed.

The trial resumes Thursday morning. will continue to follow the court case and will have more updates Thursday. Find all of the 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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