After more than six years in the courts, Travis Vader was handed a single life sentence in prison for the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. Vader was convicted last fall of two counts of manslaughter for killing the St. Albert couple.
Vader will be eligible for parole after seven years.
Justice Denny Thomas delivered his decision in the high-profile case Wednesday in Edmonton. (Scroll down to read the full sentencing decision).
The Crown was seeking a life sentence for the second killing and a 15-year sentence for the first killing. The defence was seeking a sentence of between four and six years, which would essentially amount to time served for Vader.
Watch below: Travis Vader has been handed a life sentence for killing Lyle and Marie McCann. Kendra Slugoski reports on the reaction to the sentence and how Vader’s legal saga may not be over yet.
The McCann’s son Bret watched the sentencing via video link from Australia. A number of other family members were in court for the decision.
“When the judge said ‘life in prison’… it was such a huge relief,” Bret said.
He said justice had been served and said he hopes Vader never gets parole.
“I don’t know that I would ever use the word ‘closure’ but… this is definitely a chapter closing.”
“This won’t bring our parents back,” Bret said. “I’m very hopeful he’ll say one day where our parents are.”
“We’re going to make an attempt to move on with our lives.”
Watch below: The family of Lyle and Marie McCann offer comments after Travis Vader handed life sentence
A few people inside the courtroom clapped when the sentence was read.
Before the sentence was read, Vader stood up and addressed the court.
“With all due respect, this court has convicted an innocent man. I will continue to fight until I clear my name.”
“He’s denied this from the beginning,” Bret said. “He’s never expressed any sense of remorse.”
In his full decision, Thomas explained how he arrived at the final sentence.
“Together, these sources build a complex and troubling portrait,” he wrote. “Mr. Vader does not tell the truth. He is a creature of his desires, which seem to involve illicit drugs and sex. He is an
angry, aggressive man with an explosive temper, but is also a surprisingly disciplined, intelligent actor. As I have previously observed, Mr. Vader is, in many ways, a sophisticated criminal. Whatever else, he minimizes risk to himself. Mr. Vader looks out for himself, he is ‘number one.'”
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh said Vader was “not pleased” by the decision.
“This, after 40 years of practice, this is one of those few cases that haunts me and remains a mystery in terms of what occurred and how we’ve gotten to this,” Beresh said. He echoed Vader’s intent to continue to fight to prove his innocence.
“We intend to launch that fight probably this week by filing a notice of appeal,” Beresh said.
Watch below: Travis Vader’s attorney unimpressed with life sentence for his client
The Crown, however, felt it was “a just sentence, an appropriate sentence.”
Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson explained that one life sentence was handed down because a second sentence would have been served concurrently anyway. New rules allowing multiple sentences to be served consecutively came into effect too late to apply in this case.
Finlayson wasn’t overly concerned about the issue of parole eligibility.
“A life sentence is a life sentence,” he said. “It does not mean he will get parole and in fact we’re confident that the parole board will deal with everything appropriately.”
Watch below: Crown calls Travis Vader’s life sentence ‘just and appropriate’
The Alberta RCMP released a statement Wednesday:
“The RCMP respects the court’s decision on the sentencing of Travis Vader in the 2010 deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. When a crime occurs, the role of police is to investigate by gathering evidence and providing it to the Crown in support of a prosecution. The RCMP fulfilled that role in this case.
“Today, our thoughts are with the McCann family, who have demonstrated courage throughout the tragic loss of Lyle and Marie McCann and the resulting criminal trial. The RCMP will not be providing further comment out of respect of any further appeal process.”
It’s not known how the elderly St. Albert couple was killed or in what order they died.
The Crown argued Vader was out on bail and on the run on other charges when he killed the vulnerable couple. He also showed no remorse after the killings, using their cellphone the same day to call an ex-girlfriend and their money to buy beer and a phone card, the Crown said.
The defence said the Crown didn’t prove aggravating factors of the crime so the sentence should be four to six years.
“The circumstances of this case very much boil down to speculation. Nobody knows what occurred,” Vader’s lawyer Nathan Whitling said.
“The McCanns’ remains have not been found, there were no witnesses there at the time and so it is impossible to say exactly what actions resulted in their deaths,” he said.
“Given that the onus is on the Crown to prove aggravating circumstances, our view is that the matter must be presumed to be in the lower category of offences.”
Whitling argued Vader should receive extra credit — at times three-to-one credit — because his constitutional rights were violated while in custody.
Vader testified over several days that he was subjected to a humiliating strip search, was denied proper access to a lawyer and was assaulted by guards and suffered other cruel conditions while behind bars.
Thomas dismissed part of the application dealing with the strip search, saying Vader has credibility issues, but has yet to rule on the other two grounds.
Vader was first convicted of second-degree murder in the McCanns’ deaths, but was convicted under an outdated section of the Criminal Code, which resulted in Justice Thomas reversing his decision to convictions of manslaughter.
The section of the Criminal Code Justice Thomas cited to convict Vader of second-degree murder, Section 230, was found unconstitutional in 1990 by the Supreme Court.
Bret McCann brought up Criminal Code reform after the sentence was handed down Wednesday morning. He said he’s reached out to the federal justice minister but hasn’t received a response. Bret said he wants something good to come from his parents’ deaths.
Watch below: Travis Vader was handed a life sentence Wednesday in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. Julia Wong is at the law courts with more.