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Witness testifies she saw young man running from video store morning of the Sweeney murder


A woman who got coffee at a nearby shop the morning Renee Sweeney was murdered testified Thursday that she saw a young man running “really fast” carrying a bag under his left arm.

Paulette Taillefer said he looked at her as he ran past, his eyes bulging out.

“He wasn’t fat, he wasn’t thin. He looked healthy,” Taillefer said.

“But boy could he run.”

Taillefer testified on the first formal day of the trial of Robert Steven Wright, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Sweeney.

She was killed Jan. 27, 1998, at the Adults Only Video store at a Paris Street strip mall where she was a clerk, sometime between 11 and 11:30 a.m.

Taillefer said the morning of the murder, she was headed to a friend’s house to clean and stopped at the Country Bagel shop for a coffee. The coffee shop was part of the same mall the video store and was located closest to Paris Street.

Taillefer arrived around 10:30 a.m. and said she had to leave before 11:25 a.m. for her cleaning job.

“There was a lot of people there that day,” Taillefer said, and she left after 11 a.m. and before 11:30 a.m.

She was parked in front of the mall and had either just unlocked her door or had just started to back up – she wasn’t sure – when she saw someone running on the sidewalk in front of the strip mall.

Taillefer said he was running away from the location of the video store toward the bagel shop.

“I saw a boy running,” she 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 up Paris Street. 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.”

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

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

Taillefer told them that the person she saw running headed up Paris Street.

“I thought they were going to call police because they had been robbed,” she said.

It was Paulette Taillefer’s description that led to the first composite drawing of the suspect police released publicly in 1998. (File photo)

She returned to the scene later and was questioned by police. It was Taillefer’s description that led to the first composite drawing of the suspect police released publicly in 1998.

“You got a pretty good look at this boy?” defence lawyer Michael Lacy asked her.

“(Did the police) ask you whether this person had blood on them?”

Taillefer replied she didn’t see any blood on him or any scratches on his face – adding that she only got a good look at one side of his face.

“I didn’t see any blood,’ she said.

The first witness of the day was Fred Nurmi, who managed the Adults Only Video store location in New Sudbury at the time of the murder.

Nurmi had regular contact with Sweeney and spoke with her three times that morning, including minutes before she was killed.

Assistant Crown attorney Kevin Ludgate showed photos of Sweeney making the bank deposit, which Nurmi said had to be done each morning before 10 a.m. when the store opened.

He said Sweeney called him before making the bank deposit, around 9:30 a.m., and she was “venting” about winter driving.

She called again sometime after 10:30 a.m. to brag that she had already made a sale. A third call came at 11 a.m. because, Nurmi said, she was looking for something to do.

The Jan. 27, 1998, murder of Renee Sweeney, 23, took place in an era when security cameras weren’t everywhere, as they are today. The killer managed, in broad daylight, to commit the crime and leave the video store without being caught on tape. (File photo)

“It’s not like a Walmart or anything,” he said, of the number of customers they would get.

“You might get 12 for your whole shift.”

She said she was going to organize the magazines when she suddenly had to go.

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

“That was the end of the conversation.”

He spoke in glowing terms of her work and said he knew right away she was someone who could be counted on.

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

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

Not long after his last conversation with Sweeney, a former employee called him to say something big was going on near the Paris Street store.

“I called the store where Renee was and couldn’t get through,” Nurmi said.

“All I got was a busy signal.”

After the murder, it emerged that $178.25 was missing from the cashbox, along with three expensive adult magazines, called ‘Puritan’ that sold for $29 each. Two sex toys were also missing.

In response to a question from Lacy, Nurmi confirmed the final sale that morning at 11 a.m. totaled $89 and included two of the expensive magazines.

Lacy then showed a bloody image of the cashbox and computer from the crime scene and had Nurmi point out where he believed the panic button was located.

He pointed to a silver button just above the cash box and said he believed that was it.

The trial resumes Friday morning and CTV News' coverage will continue.


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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