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Car trouble again blamed for Vader trial delay

Accused murderer Travis Vader once again showed up several hours later to his trial Tuesday morning, again citing car trouble.
Travis Vader leaves Edmonton courthouse earlier this month.
Travis Vader leaves Edmonton courthouse earlier this month.

Accused murderer Travis Vader once again showed up several hours later to his trial Tuesday morning, again citing car trouble.

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh said Vader “encountered multiple vehicle problems this morning,” but Justice Denny Thomas said he wanted more explanation for the “pretty serious delay.”

“I'm prepared to provide that,” Vader said. “I'm sorry for being late.”

He explained the first vehicle he had planned to drive, a Ford truck, had problems with its spark plugs, which “is being fixed as we speak.”

The next truck he tried, a Dodge Dakota, had ignition problems he couldn't fix.

Vader said he managed to get “an old farm truck” working, but not before he had to fix the brake line. That vehicle then got a flat tire en route.

Vader also cited car trouble when he missed an entire morning earlier in the trial on March 14.

Vader is charged with murdering St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann, who were last seen July 3, 2010. Their bodies have never been found.

With the remaining hour before the lunch break, prosecutors called Natasha Donahue, a civilian who had purchased the McCanns' former home in the summer of 2011.

She said soon after she took possession, an RCMP officer came to the door asking if he could take a piece of carpet from a spare roll in the basement storage room.

“He pointed out the carpet he was interested in and took a piece,” she said.

Donahue said when she took possession of the house, that same carpet was installed in the master bedroom and in a basement room, and the spare roll had been placed in the storage room.

After her brief testimony, RCMP Sgt. Michael Donnelly returned to the stand for Beresh's cross-examination.

He has previously given testimony about what pieces of physical evidence were found where and when at many of the different crime scenes involved in the case.

Beresh went over hundreds of photos taken at the various crime scenes, confirming what they depict: cigarette butts and beer cans at the scene where the burned motorhome was found near the Minnow Lake campground; spent shotgun shells, metal and clothing at the campground itself; and items in and around the McCanns' SUV including a hammer found in the passenger side and a piece of carpet Beresh described as “important” in this case.

“This afternoon we'll deal with some of these items in more detail,” he said.

Beresh finished the morning focusing on various marks and possible finger marks found at various locations on the SUV, referring each time to photos taken at the scene.

He also referred to the “substantial disarray” in the various buildings at the property on which the SUV was found, confirming these were scenes Donnelly observed, and depicted in the manner in which he had found them.

Following Beresh's cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson said he expects to call another associate of Vader's to give evidence.

Thursday testimony

In testimony from last Thursday afternoon, Serge Morin said that on July 10, 2010 he was returning from a drilling rig near Wolf Lake, about 75 km south of Highway 16 on the road that goes past the Minnow Lake campground, after delivering a truck full of water.

About three miles north of the turnoff to the rig, he saw a man walking along the ditch, he told the court.

“He stopped me so I pulled over,” he said.

The man, who Morin would later identify as Vader after seeing his pictures on the news, said his truck had broken down and asked for a ride.

Company policy was to not allow passengers in the truck, but Morin lent Vader his cellphone to make a few calls. Vader said someone was coming, and Morin continued on his way.

Days later when he saw Vader on the news and identified him, he reported the encounter to police. He told court he's certain the man was Vader.

“I'm kind of artistic; I've got a good memory for faces,” he said. “I'd say 100 per cent sure.”

Morin said at the time Vader had been wearing a black hoodie and a jean jacket, and may have injured his hand.

“It looked like he had a strand of cloth and a bit of dry blood there,” he said.

He said he had provided his phone records for that day to police, and confirmed he had not made any long-distance calls that day.

His wife Carolyn Podmaniczky, in whose name the phone is registered, also briefly testified she had made no long-distance calls that day.

Finally, court heard Thursday from the truck driver who transported the bin with burned remnants of the McCann motorhome from the Edson dump to the RCMP lab in Edmonton.

Elmer Desjarlais said he was told someone would be following him, but doesn't remember seeing anybody. He dropped the bin off in the grass as instructed.

Beresh asked him about access to the Edson dump for the general public, and he confirmed it may have been possible for someone to access the bin there before he picked it up.

He also testified that although the top of the bin wasn't covered, he was paying attention and nothing came out of the bin during transport.

“It was pretty damp. Nothing was flying out,” Desjarlais said.