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Wright will take the stand, will say he was in video store morning Sweeney was murdered

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Robert Steven Wright will take the stand in his own defence, his lawyer said Thursday morning during opening arguments in his second-degree murder trial.

Police supplied photos of Steven Wright who would have been 18 at the time of Renee Sweeney's murder

Lawyer Bryan Badali told the jury that Wright will say he was in the video store the morning of Jan. 27, 1998, when Renee Sweeney was stabbed to death. But he is innocent, Badali said.

“Robert is not guilty of any crime,” he said.

“He was an 18-year-old high school student who did not know Renee Sweeney and had no apparent motive.”

In his opening remarks, Crown lawyer Kevin Ludgate said the Crown’s case will rely on DNA found at the scene, as well as bloody fingerprints found on the cashbox.

Ludgate said the tragedy of Sweeney’s death is undeniable.

“She was young, she was bright, a fourth-year university student,” he said.

“She had a world of opportunity ahead of her, all cut short the morning of Jan. 27, 1998 ... She opened the store. It would be her last day.”

Sweeney fought her attacker, Ludgate said, and some of the 30 wounds she sustained were defensive wounds.

“She tried to stop the multiple stabs to her face, her back, her neck,” he said.

“It was too much … She bled to death on the floor.”

While it may be hard to believe that a high school student with no record could commit such an act, Ludgate said everyone who commits an offence has a first time.

“Sometimes that first time is the last time. Sometimes that first time is murder.”

Witnesses will testify they saw someone resembling Wright run from the video store. A canine track discovered a jacket with Sweeney’s blood on it that is linked to Wright’s family, Ludgate said.

Wright “cannot be excluded” as the source of DNA taken from Sweeney’s fingernails, he said.

Badali said the issue to be decided isn’t whether Sweeney was murdered or that it was a horrible crime.

He said Wright doesn’t deny being in the video store the morning of the killing, or that DNA was found on the jacket.

“If this case isn’t about whether Robert was there, what is it about?” Badali said.

Wright will take the stand to provide answers, his lawyer said, even though he is not required to do so.

“Rob has decided he wants to take the stand and tell you himself he did not kill Renee Sweeney,” Badali said.

Wright will explain why he was there, that he came across her body and why he left when he did.

“He is going to provide answers to the questions you may have,” Badali said.

He reminded jurors that many people in Sudbury have opinions about the case, “but they are not jurors.”

“As jurors, you occupy a special role,” Badali said.

“It is not Robert’s job to prove to you he is innocent.”

“Keep an open mind.”

Wright is charged with second-degree murder of Sweeney, a 23-year-old Laurentian University student who worked at an adult video store on Paris Street.

He was arrested in December 2018 in North Bay, where he was working at the time. He has been in custody ever since.

The trial resumes Thursday afternoon and CTV News' coverage will continue.

23-year-old Renee Sweeney was murdered in Sudbury

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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