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Vader defence rests its case

Travis Vader's defence lawyer has rested his case, concluding the evidence portion of his first-degree murder trial.
Travis Vader on the first day of the trial
Travis Vader on the first day of the trial

Travis Vader's defence lawyer has rested his case, concluding the evidence portion of his first-degree murder trial.

Final arguments have been scheduled for June 22 to 24 in the trial, and Justice Denny Thomas has said he expects he can render a decision by the end of August.

Friday morning, Thomas delivered a decision on a defence application to omit text messages police obtained from Telus as evidence because the way they were obtained amounts to a breach of Vader's rights.

Thomas rejected that argument after offering Vader the opportunity to present evidence or testifying in a voir dire hearing about how he's linked to the text message data. Defence lawyer Brian Beresh declined, and Thomas said he was therefore left with a “factual vacuum.”

“The texts are now entered into evidence on an unconditional basis,” he said.

Vader is accused of murdering St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann on July 3, 2010. They were last seen filling their motorhome with fuel that morning. The motorhome was found burning near Minnow Lake Campground on July 5, and their SUV was found abandoned two weeks later.

Text messages entered into evidence show, among other things, two text messages sent July 3 from the McCanns' cellphone to Vader's ex-girlfriend Amber Williams signed “T.” She has testified she believes Vader sent those messages based on their romantic-themed contents.

Defence evidence presented Wednesday, May 25, included three witnesses calling into question a different element of the Crown's case.

First, Terence Ostertag testified he knew Vader's associate Terry McColman for 30 years prior to his May 2011 death, and bolstered the defence claim that Vader may not have sent text messages attributed to him.

Crown prosecutors have argued text messages sent from the McCanns' cellphone to Vader's ex girlfriend Amber Williams just hours after the couple was last seen, which were signed “T” and which Williams testified she believed came from Vader because of their romantic nature, are evidence linking Vader to the McCanns.

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh has suggested Vader has never referred to himself as “T,” those messages were actually sent by McColman.

Ostertag testified when he and McColman were roommates, McColman would often sign notes or text messages as “T.” He also testified he believed McColman was “sweet on” Williams, but could not provide specific examples of McColman telling him this.

He also testified that he had known McColman to steal vehicles, and one night he returned home tired and wet saying he had fled from police after stealing a truck.

“He had just barely escaped by getting down to the North Saskatchewan River, and getting across it,” he said.

Under cross-examination, Ostertag also testified he had used meth and that Vader was part of the drug scene in the Edson area. He said believed Vader had “probably” been using drugs in 2010, but said he had not necessarily seen him doing drugs himself.

“My specific recollection of that isn't clear,” he said. “There was casual drug use occasionally; I can't say specifically if it was Travis.

The second witness, Clarence Foisy, testified he had been at the Minnow Lake Campground July 4, 2010, for an anniversary party, and saw a motorhome towing an SUV, both of which match the descriptions of those belonging to the McCanns.

While he did not identify pictures of either Lyle or Marie McCann, he said he had seen a man of about 65 years old walking near the motorhome at one point.

His daughter and daughter-in-law had previously provided similar testimony, but there was some inconsistency between their versions of events – specifically who may have been with the motorhome and when the SUV in tow was detached from the motorhome.

Foisy said he noticed the motorhome had not been parked particularly well, and had not been leveled off, as one would expect to see if people were sleeping in it for the night.

“It was parked at a really crazy angle,” he said.

The third witness was Tanja Radovanovic, a woman who claims she saw Crown witness Myles Ingersoll smoking methamphetamine at a house in Edmonton the early morning hours of April 4, the day he testified at the trial.

During his testimony he spoke of using drugs with Vader and of seeing Vader in the McCanns' SUV. In cross-examination Beresh had questioned his reliability, even suggesting he was high while giving his testimony.

Radovanovic testified she had been at the house to visit a friend, and saw Ingersoll smoking meth from a pipe then pass the pipe to someone else. She testified she did not speak to him at the time, but continued visiting with her friend before leaving about an hour later.

Under cross examination, she told prosecutor Ashley Finlayson that while she did not know Vader, she had come to testify in the trial after speaking with a friend.

“A friend of mine is involved in the court case, I guess, and she told me,” she said. The two discussed what she had seen that morning, “then she asked me to be a witness.”

She identified the friend as Samantha Dandeneault, Vader's girlfriend who has been in the courtroom for portions of the trial.

When Justice Denny Thomas asked her to spell the name of the woman, she said she didn't know and motioned to Dandeneault.

“That's the person you've been looking at for help in giving your evidence?” Thomas asked her.

“No, no, I've just been looking around,” she replied.

To see past coverage of the Vader trial, visit www.stalbertgazette.com/news/Vader