Advertisement

‘I plead not guilty to that charge’: Travis Vader at start of McCann murder trial

Click to play video 'Travis Vader’s first-degree murder trial begins' Travis Vader’s first-degree murder trial begins
WATCH ABOVE: Nearly six years after Lyle and Marie McCann disappeared, Travis Vader is facing the murder charges in court. Kendra Slugoski was there.

EDMONTON – The Crown believes a crystal meth user hiding from police and desperate for money killed two Alberta seniors, but the suspect’s lawyer is questioning whether the couple is really dead.

The first-degree murder trial for Travis Vader, 44, began Tuesday with opening statements by lawyers.

TIMELINE: The key events in Travis Vader case 

Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart told a judge that DNA ties Vader to Lyle and Marie McCann’s abandoned SUV. Steward said a witness saw Vader driving the vehicle hours after the couple was last seen nearly six years ago.

Evidence will also show Vader called and sent text messages to a former girlfriend from the couple’s cellphone, said Stewart.

Vader’s lawyer, Brian Beresh, told the trial that there’s no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the McCanns are dead because their bodies have never been found and to say what happened to them is “speculation.”

Story continues below advertisement

But if they were killed, he added, police were under pressure to solve the case and focused solely on his client instead of others.

“The names of those suspects will be revealed at this trial,” Beresh said.

“Authorities picked the wrong villain.”

Vader, once a well-off oilfield worker who was able to support a wife and nine children, had “squandered it all away” with his drug habit and was living in makeshift camps in the summer of 2010, said Stewart. He was also wanted on warrants and police were actively looking for him.

WATCH: It’s been nearly six years since St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann vanished. On Tuesday a first-degree murder trial began for long-time suspect Travis Vader.

Click to play video 'Travis Vader heads into court for first-degree murder trial' Travis Vader heads into court for first-degree murder trial
Travis Vader heads into court for first-degree murder trial

The McCanns, great-grandparents in their late 70s, were last seen fuelling up their motorhome and buying groceries at a Superstore in their hometown of St. Albert, a bedroom community north of Edmonton, on July 3 of that year. They were heading out to meet family in British Columbia.

Story continues below advertisement

Stewart said the seniors didn’t make it far and were murdered the day they left home.

Two days later, their motorhome was found burning in the bush west of Edmonton. The Hyundai Tucson they had been towing would later be found hidden in some trees on a nearby rural property.

Stewart said a witness will testify that he saw Vader twice on July 3 in the hamlet of Peers. “On the first occasion, Vader was driving a stolen pickup truck and had no money. A few hours later, in the afternoon, Vader was driving a green Hyundai Tucson SUV and had money.”

The pickup was later found by RCMP. Someone had attempted to set it on fire and the keys to the couple’s SUV were found in the bed of the truck, said Stewart.

Inside the SUV, experts found Marie McCann’s blood on cans of beans left on the floor, court heard. Lyle McCann’s blood was also discovered on a cap he had been wearing.

Stewart said Vader’s DNA, blood and a fingerprint were found in several spots in the vehicle, including on a can of Boxer beer left in a cup holder.

READ MORE: Evidence ties Travis Vader to missing St. Albert couple’s SUV: Crown summary

Beresh said there are problems with the forensic evidence that leave doubt as to whether Vader’s DNA was actually anywhere in the SUV. He said other items in the vehicle, as well as cigarette butts found near the motorhome, cannot be matched to his client.

Story continues below advertisement

He said he hopes the trial will reveal “negligence and inept investigation” by RCMP.

READ MORE: Vader’s lawyer alleges Crown stayed charges to buy time to build ‘circumstantial case’

Vader has filed malicious prosecution lawsuits against prosecutors and the Mounties. He was originally to go to trial in 2014. But the Crown stayed the murder charges just before it was to begin, announcing it had discovered officers didn’t disclose all evidence to lawyers. The charges were relaid nine months later.

Beresh said he plans to show during the trial that one of the first officers to arrive at the motorhome failed to secure valuable evidence and was eventually fired from the force.

A beer can found near the burned out SUV.
A beer can found near the burned out SUV. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
Cans of food found in the SUV with blood on it. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016.
Cans of food found in the SUV with blood on it. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
Lyle McCann's hat found in the SUV. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016.
Lyle McCann's hat found in the SUV. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
Lyle McCann's hat found in the SUV. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016.
Lyle McCann's hat found in the SUV. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
A photo of Marie McCann.
A photo of Marie McCann. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
A photo of Lyle McCann.
A photo of Lyle McCann. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
Story continues below advertisement
The McCanns' SUV.
The McCanns' SUV. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
The inside of the McCanns' SUV.
The inside of the McCanns' SUV. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
A cell phone in Crown evidence. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016.
A cell phone in Crown evidence. Photo evidence submitted in the Travis Vader murder trial, March 8, 2016. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
The burned out motorhome belonging to Lyle and Marie McCann.
The burned out motorhome belonging to Lyle and Marie McCann. Courtesy: Photo Evidence
The burned out motorhome belonging to Lyle and Marie McCann.
The burned out motorhome belonging to Lyle and Marie McCann. Courtesy: Photo Evidence

With files from Global News

Story continues below advertisement