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Vader late to his murder trial once again

Travis Vader's double murder trial got off to a late start yet again Wednesday morning as court waited for the accused to arrive.

Travis Vader's double murder trial got off to a late start yet again Wednesday morning as court waited for the accused to arrive.

When court started more than an hour later than usual, he told Justice Denny Thomas he was late because his alarm clock didn't go off.

“I'll start by saying sorry, your honour,” he said. “I slept in.”

Vader elaborated he had been up late the night before because he was being evicted from his hotel room. He attributed the eviction to RCMP personnel contacting the hotel's management.

Thomas appeared unimpressed, and issued a warning to Vader.

“This has happened a number of times, Mr. Vader,” he said. “You've always had an explanation, but I'll ask you don't let it happen again.”

Thomas referred to the many people delayed as a result of Vader's lateness, which on Wednesday morning included a dozen lawyers and court staff, as well as three dozen members of the public in the gallery.

Vader is charged with murdering elderly St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann, who were last seen headed to B.C. on a road trip on July 3, 2010. They are presumed dead, and their bodies have never been recovered.

He arrived late March 14, citing car trouble, which resulted in a half-day delay as he waited for a tow truck. He again cited car trouble March 29, which resulted in a two-hour delay.

The trial, initially scheduled to run until April 8, is now expected to run to the end of April if not early May.

DNA evidence begins

Court began to hear about the DNA evidence on Tuesday afternoon, beginning with DNA analyst Vashni Skipper being qualified as an expert in DNA analysis. The voir dire hearing to determine whether she could be considered an expert took the bulk of the afternoon.

As with previous Crown expert witnesses, during the testimony defence lawyer Brian Beresh was accompanied at the defence table by his own expert witness, who is expected to testify near the end of the trial.

Skipper holds a master's degree, has completed a one-year training program with the RCMP and has worked at the RCMP DNA lab in Edmonton for nearly a decade.

“I have worked on hundreds of cases over the last nine years since I've been qualified,” she said.

She also also been qualified as an expert witness in various courts around the country on many occasions.

Beresh questioned her lack of a doctoral degree and lack of published work, as well as the lack of any formal training specific to statistical analysis. He at first objected to qualifying Skipper as an expert on this last component, but said Wednesday morning he would withdraw that objection and asked Thomas to instead weigh her evidence on that topic accordingly.

She spent most of the morning explaining the basics of DNA, how it's collected, how it comes into the lab, how analysis takes place, and the many controls that are put in place to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Toward the end of the morning, she began to discuss specific pieces of evidence – 30 pieces are contained in the 13 reports she filed for this case.

The first report, for example, contained a hat presumed to have belonged to Lyle McCann, which had four blood spatters on it. She described where samples were taken from the hat and why.

That report also included reports about a hairbrush and a pair of shoes, taken from the McCann house, which were each a “putative sample” for Marie and Lyle respectively. Skipper explained that in the absence of a known sample, investigators may seek likely sources of a subject DNA from which to establish a sample for comparison.

“We're targetting something that is likely to have DNA from that person, and only that person,” she said.

She began discussing her conclusions about what was found in each sample just before the lunch break, and is expected to continue that testimony Wednesday afternoon.

Truck found on oil lease

On Tuesday afternoon, court also heard briefly from civilian Bradley Ell, who reported a Ford F-350 abandoned on an oil lease on July 17, 2010.

Appearing via videoconference from the Fort McMurray courthouse, he testified he had been working as a field operator for Encana that summer, checking on well sites. He had first noticed the brown F-350

When Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson held a photo of the brown Ford F-350 – identified by other witnesses as one Vader had been driving in early July – up to the video camera, Ell confirmed that was the truck he had seen.

He said first saw the truck parked at the edge of the lease between seven and 10 days prior to reporting it, but he didn't think it suspicious at first, believing it may have belonged to an adjacent landowner.

After about a week he drove closer to check it, and saw it didn't have a licence plate. He also noticed a hose coming from the fuel tank in the box through a partially opened window and into the cab, with apparent charring from a fire.

“I knew there was a murder investigation going on; that's when I phoned police,” he said.

RCMP members have previously testified keys the McCanns' SUV were found in the truck several days later at an RCMP evidence bay at the St. Albert detachment.