Killer of missing Alberta seniors loses appeal of manslaughter convictions

EDMONTON — An appeal from the killer of two Edmonton-area seniors has been dismissed.

Travis Vader asked the Alberta Court of Appeal for a new trial or for his manslaughter charges to be stayed.

Vader was sentenced in 2017 to life in prison for the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann, who vanished in 2010 while setting out on a camping trip.

His lawyers argued the trial judge should have dismissed his case because it took so long to work its way through the court system.

The lawyers also said the judge made errors and showed bias when he substituted the lesser offence of manslaughter for two second-degree murder verdicts.

Three Appeal judges agreed that a reasonable person would think Vader was treated fairly at trial.

“We see no prejudice having befallen the appellant as a consequence of the trial judge’s analysis, and no benefit in a retrial to test again whether the appellant should have been convicted of manslaughter in the robbery killing of the McCanns,” the judges wrote in a unanimous decision released Friday.

During the trial in 2016, Vader was described as a desperate drug addict who came across the McCanns and killed them during a robbery.

Court heard the couple’s burned-out motorhome and a vehicle they had been towing were discovered in the days after they disappeared. Their bodies have never been found.

Vader was charged with first-degree murder in 2012. The charges against were stayed in March 2014 but were reinstated a few months later.

Vader had sought to have the charges thrown out on the grounds his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated. Justice Denny Thomas dismissed the application six months before a landmark 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that set limits on how long cases should take in court.

The Jordan decision says cases should take 18 months in provincial courts and 30 months in superior courts, with some exceptions. It included a provision for cases already underway at the time of the ruling, such as Vader’s.

The Appeal Court said it took 58 months from when Vader was charged until he was sentenced. But they said the delay was justified, given the unusual nature of the case.

“The complexity of this case, including the difficulties associated with prosecuting a murder trial ‘without a body,’ though not a full answer, was a significant factor in justifying the delay,” the judges said in their decision.

“In conclusion, although the trial took substantially longer to complete than the 30-month presumptive ceiling, we think that in light of the extraordinary circumstances of this case, the delay was not unreasonable and that the appellant’s submission must fail.”

The defence had argued the RCMP was negligent in the handling of disclosure in the trial, which added two years of delay to the prosecution.

The lawyers also noted Thomas mistakenly used an outdated section of the Criminal Code to initially convict Vader of second-degree murder. He later substituted the verdict with manslaughter.

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