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Vader late for trial, again

Travis Vader was late for his murder trial yet again Wednesday morning, but it may be the last time if a Crown application is granted. Justice Paul Belzil began a bail-review hearing at 1 p.m., and agreed to adjourn the matter until Friday at 1 p.m.
The hole in Lyle McCann’s hat
The hole in Lyle McCann’s hat

Travis Vader was late for his murder trial yet again Wednesday morning, but it may be the last time if a Crown application is granted.

Justice Paul Belzil began a bail-review hearing at 1 p.m., and agreed to adjourn the matter until Friday at 1 p.m. before deciding on Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson's application to have Vader's bail revoked. Arguments heard during the hearing are subject to a court-ordered publication ban.

Justice Denny Thomas, the trial judge, referred the review to Belzil Wednesday morning after Vader was more than a half hour late to his trial for the fourth time.

Court opened at 10 a.m., and Thomas noted Vader appeared to be absent.

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh explained his office received a call from Vader shortly past 9 a.m.

"The vehicle they were using, a reliable vehicle, was borrowed by someone else and not returned," he said. "I apologize."

At that point Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson applied for a bench warrant to be issued, and Thomas issued the warrant for 10:30 a.m.

That warrant was vacated when Vader arrived at 10:15, and Thomas told him he had referred for a review of his release arrangements by another judge.

"The reason for it is it is not appropriate for me to be reviewing release conditioms beyond these minor changes I've made," he said, referring to small changes in curfiew requirements he had previously ordered.

Vader has been more than half an hour late on several previous occasions, twice citing car troubles and most recently, last week citing the fact he was being evicted from his hotel. On the last occasion, Thomas said he was “imploring” Vader not to let it happen again, referring to the dozens of people waiting in the courtroom for the trial to begin.

A criminal trial cannot typically be conducted in the absence of the accused.

Vader is charged with murdering St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann in on July 3, 2010, when they were last seen at a gas bar before heading out on a road trip to B.C. They are presumed dead, but their bodies have never been recovered.

Amber Williams

Text messages sent from Lyle McCann's cell phone just hours after the McCanns were last seen came from Travis Vader, his ex-girlfriend has testified.

Shortly before the lunch break, Amber Williams took the stand and discussed her relationship with Vader in July 2010.

She said two messages sent to her around 2 p.m. on July 3, indicating a desire to get in touch with her and including the line “It's me T” came from Vader.

“He said it was T, and he sent text messages between from a different number as well,” she said when asked to explain how she knew it was him, adding no one else sent her text messages like that during that time period.

Other text messages he sent her referred to his being on the run from police because of his outstanding warrants, and the fact he had quit using drugs.

“He was just telling me he was off the drugs,” she said.

Williams said she and Vader had been dating, and living together with at their friend Don Bulmer's house in McKay, Alta., for about three months before she left him near the end of June.

She said they regularly used drugs together, specifically crystal methamphetamine, and that played a big role in their breakup. She described both of them as having been addicted to meth.

“Yes he was (addicted),” she said. “Because we both were constantly doing it, and that's mainly the reason we split up. We couldn't get along; it was just too much.”

Following their breakup, Williams said she would often get five or six text messages in a row from Vader's phone, but she did not talk to him personally.

“There were quite a few of them. Nothing major, just that he loved me and wanted me back,” she said. “It was an ongoing thing for about two weeks, maybe. I didn't respond too often.”

Williams said she had no interest in getting back together with him, and when she did text back it would be with a dismissive tone.

Williams, who is in custody, was wearing the blue sweatshirt typical of inmates at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre as sherriffs led her into and out of the courtroom.

Several times during her testimony, Vader could be seen mouthing words to Williams and smiling. She could likewise be seen smiling back at him several times in the first half hour of her testimony before the lunch break.

Her testimony was expected to continue at 2 p.m.

Firearms expert

A bullet passed through Lyle McCann's baseball cap, but an expert witness can't say much more than that.

Dean Dahlstrom, who in 2010 worked with the RCMP and examined the hat for evidence of markings and residue related to firearms, was qualified as a firearms expert Tuesday afternoon and briefly gave evidence.

“In my opinion, there was damage to the hat consistent with the primary passage of a bullet,” he said.

He elaborated that the bullet passed through the brim, perpendicular from the top of the hat to the bottom, and the hat was in range of the muzzle residue from the gun.

Dahlstrom said he did both a physical examination of the hat and a series of chemical tests to come to these conclusions.

“I observed a vapour pattern that extended beyond the bullet wipe pattern,” he said. “In my opinion, it would be consistent with firearm discharge residue.”

He specifically noted he could not say how far the hat was from the gun when it was discharged because the size and shape of the firearm discharge residue markings are dependent on the calibre and type of ammunition used.

“Without that information I'm not prepared to guess at the target distance,” Dahlstrom said.

In his short cross-examination, Beresh confirmed specifically what was unknown about the firearm and bullet: the brand, type, and properties of the firearm and ammunition as well as where and when the bullet was fired.

He also suggested it would be possible for the firearm discharge residue to have been placed on the hat indirectly, when someone touched the hole.

“It may diffuse the soot in that area, that's correct,” Dahlstrom replied.