July 15, 2014 5:40 pm

4 questions in the Calgary family disappearance-turned-homicide case

WATCH: As the news sets in that 5-year-old Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, will never come home, the prime suspect was formally charged with their murders. Francis Silvaggio has the story.

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TORONTO – The disappearance of five-year-old Nathan O’Brien and grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes has resulted in three murder charges against suspect Douglas Garland.

The Amber Alert was discontinued by police on Monday, but police continue their investigation. And there are some seemingly unusual questions being asked by those following the case.

How can murder charges be laid without the victims’ bodies?

Though Garland has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder related to the Liknes’ and one count of second-degree murder related to O’Brien, no bodies have been recovered.

“While it is unusual for homicide charges to be laid without the bodies, and there’s obviously a huge amount of information that comes from being able to obtain that additional evidence, what it tells me is that the evidence the police have already collected points to this particular conclusion,” said forensic psychologist Patrick Baillie.

The body of eight-year-old Tori Stafford was not found until three months after she went missing, and two months before Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic were arrested and charged with abduction. (In addition, Rafferty was charged with murder and McClintic was charged with knowingly aiding and enabling Rafferty).

Charges were also laid without a body in the Waterloo case of Catherine Todd, added sociology and legal studies professor at University of Waterloo Jennifer Schulenberg.

“It is rare (very rare) but it occurs when sufficient evidence exists to do so. An actual body is only part of an evidentiary picture,” Schulenberg told Global News.

Baillie said the prosecution can only go ahead when the Crown believes there’s reasonable possibility of conviction, so there must be sufficient evidence to justify the charges.

“We know there was a violent incident at the Liknes home and I would assume there is blood evidence collected at that scene,” he added. “We also have a suspicious vehicle—which was tied to the accused—so there may have been evidence gathered in that setting as well as the extensive search the police have done.”

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson said it’s “obviously” preferable to have a body so that the medical examiner “knows what you have.” But that’s not necessarily always the way a case concludes.

“People dispose of bodies and we have to pursue every investigative lead that we have,” said Hanson.

Why was there a delay between Garland’s arrest and processing?

Garland was arrested early Monday morning, but not escorted to the Calgary police arrest processing unit until much later Monday evening.

Baillie said from what he understands, investigators tried to use that time to “have a conversation with him.”

“There have been other cases where favours have been given to people that have been convicted, but in Mr. Garland’s position—to my understanding—there’s been no confession, no admission of responsibility; so he’s not in a position where he wants to give police additional information,” said Baillie.

Watch below: Murder suspect Douglas Garland escorted by police to see a justice of the peace

Schulenberg said hearings must occur without reasonable delay and within a 24-hour period or as soon as possible.

“This means there is nothing unusual with the timing of going before a Justice of the Peace,” she said.

Why did Garland violate his curfew and breach a police scene?

Garland was also released after having been taken into police custody and questioned last week in connection to the O’Brien/Liknes case, which revealed unrelated charges having to do with identity theft.

Garland then violated his curfew and returned to his parents’ acreage (which police are still searching). Since police have official custody of the acreage, Garland was also stepping onto the crime scene.

Timeline: Missing Calgary family Nathan O’Brien, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes

“We know that Mr. Garland made the decision to go back there, and we can assume he was aware of the conditions he wasn’t supposed to be in that area.  So he must have had a reason for wanting to get back there,” suggested Baillie.

But Schulenberg said a violation of parole speaks more to Garland’s criminal behaviour and record than it does to the case per se.

“We are not privy to exactly what the police are searching for and whether there is a probability that Garland would be aware and/or concerned,” she explained.

Why have police stopped updating the public?

Hanson has characterized the case as “complex” and said he understands why questions are lingering.

“But we live in a world, in a justice system, where once we lay a charge we no longer comment on what evidence we’re prepared to move forward [with],” he said.

“The reality is the evidence we have will be presented by the Crown in a court of law.”

Garland is set to appear in court Wednesday morning.

READ MORE:How you can support the Liknes and O’Brien families

With files from Nancy Hixt

© Shaw Media, 2014