A justice has rejected a call for a mistrial and found Travis Vader guilty of manslaughter in the death of a St. Albert couple.
Vader’s murder convictions were vacated Monday and substituted with guilty verdicts on two charges of manslaughter.
Vader had been convicted of two counts of second-degree murder, but the presiding judge, Justice Denny Thomas had made an error in his judgment on Sept. 15. He cited a section of the Criminal Code that had been struck down and deemed unconstitutional more than two decades earlier.
After six weeks of silence and much speculation on possible solutions from legal experts, Thomas acknowledged Monday that he made an error in applying Section 230.
“Certainly I accept that is an error,” he said, during a mistrial hearing on Monday.
In September, Vader was found guilty of killing Lyle and Marie McCann, an elderly St. Albert couple who disappeared during a road trip to B.C. in 2010. Thomas concluded that Vader had killed them in a robbery turned violent.
Rather than declare a mistrial – as the defence argued was necessary to rectify the error in applying Section 230 – Thomas reopened his decision on Monday and substituted Vader’s second-degree murder charges with guilty verdicts on the lesser, included charge of manslaughter.
The news of the conviction came as a relief to the victims’ family.
Bret McCann, son of the deceased couple, was satisfied that his family would not have to endure another trial.
“My family and I are very pleased with the decision today,” he said. “We’re comfortable that justice is being served,” said McCann, who said the family really wanted to have the case resolved this year.
McCann said he was comfortable with the manslaughter charges and “heartened” by Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson’s intent to seek the maximum sentence during sentencing, which has been set for the week of Dec. 12 through 16. Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Following Monday’s hearing, defence lawyer Nate Whitling said the defence would continue to seek a mistrial or an acquittal through the appeal process.
“It’s our view that Justice Thomas did not have the authority to do this and this is a matter that is going to have to be sorted out by a higher court down the road,” Whitling told reporters outside the courtroom.
During Monday’s mistrial hearing, Whitling argued that a new trial was needed to determine whether Vader was guilty of manslaughter. He said there were key issues that remained unaddressed in the Thomas’ original 130-page decision, such as whether or not Vader should have known that his actions would cause death.
Reasonable foresight is a prerequisite to murder, which the defence argued must be ruled out before a judge can convict on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Whitling also argued that it would be prejudicial for Justice Thomas to reopen his own decision to address these unanswered questions.
The Crown disagreed saying that Justice Thomas could come to the conclusion of manslaughter with his current findings.
“I think we can take from Justice Thomas’ decision today, that but for Section 230, back on Sept. 15, he would have convicted of manslaughter,” Finlayson told reporters after the hearing.
Thomas gave no reasoning on Monday, saying that a written decision will be submitted shortly. As of Tuesday morning the decision had not been made available to the public.