EDMONTON – An Edmonton judge ruled on Tuesday a trial will go ahead for a man charged with murder after the mysterious disappearance of two Alberta seniors.
Travis Vader is charged with first-degree murder in the 2010 deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. The trial will begin March 8. Five weeks have been set aside for the trial.
“Me and my whole family are very pleased this whole process is proceeding,” Lyle and Marie’s son Bret said. “We are keenly looking forward to finding out what happened to my parents back in July 2010.”
“To have it come down to this kind of singularity, where it could go this way or that way based on a judge’s decision, that was a lot of stress,” he said. Bret added family members plan to be in court for the duration of the trial.
Watch below: Bret McCann speaks the media following Tuesday’s decision
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Lawyers for Vader had argued the case should be dropped over alleged abuse of process. Vader was initially charged in 2012 with first-degree murder in the deaths.
The couple, in their late 70s, was last seen two years earlier fuelling up their motorhome in their hometown of St. Albert, a bedroom community north of Edmonton.
The Crown stayed the charges against Vader in 2014, days before his trial was to begin, after discovering the RCMP had failed to disclose some evidence.
Charges were re-laid nine months later and Vader is scheduled to go to trial before a judge alone in March.
His lawyers had argued the case should be thrown out because the disclosure problem resulted in an extra two years getting it to trial.
“We’re disappointed,” defence lawyer Brian Beresh said, “but we respect the decision. It’s well considered. This was a difficult application.
“Despite the fact that we accept it, we still take the position that this was a tactic used by the prosecution to buy more time. It was effective; it bought more time, but it was ineffective because nothing new was revealed. So we look forward to a trial and Mr. Vader does too.”
In his decision, Justice Denny Thomas said Vader came “very close” to making his case for staying the charges, but in the end, Thomas ruled there was no unreasonable delay.
“We knew we were close,” Beresh said. “I think that’s a very accurate call. These are difficult decisions to make when you balance all the factors. We thought we were closer than very close.”
Following the decision, Vader’s lawyers reiterated they want all evidence collected after the charges were stayed in 2014 to be excluded.
“He’s always, throughout this, denied any involvement, despite being targeting and tarred by the police who used that as an investigative process,” Beresh said, “which will be discussed during the trial. He’s always maintained his innocence.”
The Crown has admitted Vader’s charter rights were breached by the “egregious disclosure mess” and says Mounties have since made changes to the way they handle disclosure in major investigations.
“I think they made mistakes and I think they owned up to up them,” Bret said, referring to the RCMP. “At the end of the day, they did an enormous and effective job. Mistakes happen, and what’s crucial is that they realize them and they address them.”
“They’ve taken significant steps to try to ensure something like this does not happen again,” Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson added.
Watch below: Newly released court documents reveal the RCMP might have evidence linking Travis Vader to the McCann’s SUV. Kendra Slugoski reports. (Jan. 16, 2016.)
Prosecutors argued that the trial should proceed because of the serious nature of the charges and in the interest of society.
The McCanns, whose bodies have never been found, had been on their way to a family camping trip in British Columbia.
READ MORE: The disappearance of Lyle and Marie McCann
Their burned-out motorhome was discovered in a wooded area near Edson, west of Edmonton, two days after they were last seen at the gas station. The SUV they had been towing was also found concealed in another location.
RCMP have said they believe the seniors were killed in the area, near the hamlet of Peers.
Court documents were made public in recent weeks and revealed that RCMP believe forensic evidence, an undercover sting and some of the couple’s personal belongings tie Vader to the crime.
The documents have not been tested in court.
In a pretrial conference memorandum on Dec. 2, 2013, the Crown alleges Vader used the couple’s cellphone on the last day they were seen alive.
It says Lyle McCann’s hat with a bullet hole in it was found in the SUV, along with Marie McCann’s blood.
Other documents say a beer can in the vehicle had Vader’s DNA and fingerprint on it and that a man told police Vader had given him a ruby ring that belonged to the McCanns.
About two dozen officers posed as members of a criminal organization looking to recruit Vader, the documents say. His sister was also involved in a scenario with officers.
Documents further suggest an RCMP witness who was paid $22,000 offered to tell officers where the couple’s bodies are if he got more money.
Watch below: Travis Vader, the man accused in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann, is released on bail from the Edmonton Remand Centre Tuesday night. (Dec 24, 2014 )
With files from Kendra Slugoski, Karen Bartko and Emily Mertz, Global News