Travis Vader has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of St. Albert, Alta., couple Lyle and Marie McCann, who disappeared without a trace more than six years ago while on a road trip to British Columbia.
Judge Denny Thomas delivered the verdict in an Edmonton courtroom Thursday morning. The decision was livestreamed online and broadcast on television, a first in Alberta’s history.
Scroll down to read the full judgement.
VIDEO GALLERY: Vader guilty of second-degree murder
Thomas read from a summary of his 131-page ruling, in which he accepted much of the evidence presented by the Crown. However, he said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Vader had planned to kill the elderly Alberta couple.
“I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vader killed the McCanns in a planned and deliberate manner,” Thomas said in his decision. “The killing of the McCanns was not a first-degree murder. It is therefore a second-degree murder.”
WATCH: Travis Vader convicted of killing Lyle and Marie McCann who went missing in 2010. Kendra Slugoski reports.
The judge determined Vader’s motivation to rob the McCanns at a campground when he encountered them was because he was broke, hungry and addicted to crystal meth.
“The McCanns and their property were a target of opportunity, an opportunity that Vader took. The McCanns were victims of violence. Mr. Vader committed that violence,” Thomas said. “I conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vader caused the death of Lyle and Marie McCann.”
The Crown had argued that Vader, who pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, was a crystal meth addict living in a makeshift camp when he came across the McCanns and killed them.
The defence contended that without evidence of human remains or a murder weapon, the Crown’s case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence — suggesting there is no proof the couple is even dead.
Family members of the McCanns wept in court and hugged one another as the verdict was read.
Following the verdict, the RCMP thanked Justice Thomas for his thorough review and offered condolences to the McCann family.
“Our thoughts are with the McCann family, whose demonstrated respect for the criminal trial process continues to set a very high standard for all Canadians,” the RCMP said in a statement.
The bodies of the McCanns, both in their late 70s, have never been found. The vehicle and the couple’s burned-out motor home were discovered west of Edmonton days after the couple vanished.
Outside the courthouse, Bret McCann spoke about the loss of his parents and thanked the Crown attorneys for their work.
“Today’s verdict is a huge relief to our family,” Bret told reporters. “My parents had a long and happy life, they were kindred spirits.”
“Married in 1952, they loved to be together. It is so, so sad that my parents didn’t live to fully enjoy their golden years, did not live to enjoy their grandchildren. They, and us, were robbed of this happiness.”
Vader’s lawyer, Brian Beresh, gave a short statement saying he was “very disappointed” with the verdict and would appeal the decision based on “errors in judgment.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Global News learned Vader’s lawyer confirmed he was planning to file an appeal of the second-degree murder convictions on Friday. Beresh said the appeal would be related to a section of the Criminal Code which the Supreme Court of Canada deemed unconstitutional in 1990.
Crown prosecutors also spoke to media Thursday saying they were pleased with the decision.
“It’s a great decision at the end of a long and difficult case,” Ashley Finlayson told reporters. “At the end of the day, we’re very happy for the McCanns.”
“They have some closure for the matter and they received a decision that I’m sure they’re pleased with.”
Lyle and Marie McCann disappear
The case that first began in 2010, when the St. Albert couple mysteriously disappeared, has seen a number of twists and turns that caused court proceedings to drag on six years.
The McCanns’ burned-out motor home was discovered in a wooded area near Edson, on the northwestern outskirts of Edmonton.
However, police failed to notify their children of the discovery until five days later when their daughter, Trudy Holder, called RCMP after her parents failed to arrive in Abbotsford, B.C.
Two people went to the RCMP in B.C. and reported having spotted a green Hyundai Tucson like the one the McCanns were towing behind their motorhome, but they are turned away. Mounties later issued a public plea for information.
WATCH: Vader verdict to be read in front of cameras
RCMP identified Vader as a person of interest shortly after the couple’s SUV was discovered and arrested him on unrelated charges. It would take another two years before he was charged with their murder.
In early 2014, Vader filed a $1-million wrongful prosecution lawsuit against the RCMP and Crown prosectuors alleging he had been held in custody on trumped-up charges until he could be charged in the McCann case.
Crown prosecutor Michelle Doyle discovered that Mounties failed to disclose all evidence to the lawyers, and stayed the murder charges just days before the trial was to open.
Vader arrested again and charged with murder: ‘I am not guilty’
In December 2014, Vader was arrested once again and the charges of murder were reinstated.
His trial began on March 8 before Justice Denny Thomas where Vader declares: “I am not guilty of that charge.”
Over the course of the three-and-a-half month trial, 89 witnesses were called to testify and 208 exhibits were shown in court.
The prosecution has relied heavily on evidence that included Vader’s DNA, which was found on a can of beer in the SUV the McCanns had been towing. The court also heard that Vader’s blood was found on the centre armrest and on the front passenger seat and steering wheel.
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh conceded that while it might be possible Vader stole the vehicle it didn’t mean he killed anyone.
The trial also heard how a baseball hat found in the SUV had both Vader’s DNA and Lyle McCann’s blood on it, while blood from Marie McCann was found on items in the back of the vehicle.
Beresh countered that sneezing into a vehicle or onto items might be enough to transfer DNA.
During the trial both a friend of Vader’s and Vader’s sister changed their stories while testifying from what they had told investigators in the beginning of the case.
The defence also suggested Terry McColman, a friend of Vader’s who died in 2011, might have been responsible for the murders.
Beresh also called a witness who said she had seen a couple she believed to be the McCanns in a campground a day after they were supposedly killed.
The trial was punctuated by the ongoing drama of Vader’s late arrival for the proceedings; sometimes he blamed vehicle problems for his delays, and once even admitted to sleeping in. Thomas issued several warnings not to let it happen again.
Ahead of Thursday’s verdict, Thomas also ruled that cameras would be allowed in the courtroom to livestream and broadcast the verdict, accepting the arguments of several media outlets, including Global News, that it would be in the public’s interest.
*With files from Rebecca Joseph and The Canadian Press