As sentencing began this week in the manslaughter conviction of Travis Vader, the court heard of two very different kinds of nightmares.
In the first two days of the week-long hearing, Justice Denny Thomas heard from friends and family of the victims, Lyle and Marie McCann, and from Vader himself.
Vader was found guilty of murdering the elderly St. Albert couple while they were on a road trip to B.C. in summer 2010. The second-degree murder conviction was later downgraded to manslaughter.
In his judgment Thomas concluded that Vader killed one of the McCanns in the process of robbing them. He then killed the other to ensure there were no witnesses to the crime.
Bret McCann, son of the victims, told the court Monday that the thought of their final moments too often interrupted his thoughts and sleep. He described a recurring dream in which one parent has to watch the other die knowing they are next.
“I can't get that vision out of my head and I know I will have that nightmare until… forever,” McCann later said outside the courthouse.
Other family members shared similar stories of recurring nightmares. Many described overwhelming feelings of anxiety when the phone rang late at night or when a friend or family member left on vacation.
Nicole Walshe, granddaughter to the slain couple, told the court how Vader robbed Lyle and Marie McCann of the opportunity of meeting their great-granddaughters.
“I live every day with the deep sadness my daughters will never know the love of my grandparents,” she said in a written statement, read aloud by Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson.
Walshe told the court that after difficulty conceiving she found out she was pregnant two months after her grandparents went missing.
“They never saw me become a mom,” she wrote.
After Monday's court session was adjourned Bret told reporters that he hoped the sentence would reflect the lack of remorse Vader has shown throughout the trial.
He spoke about the pain of not knowing where his parents' bodies are and how the only person who knew this information has sat silently in court this whole time.
Vader has never testified in his defence.
On Tuesday, he addressed the court for the first time since the trial began, to speak to an application to have his sentence reduced.
Manslaughter carries no minimum sentence. The defence is seeking a concurrent sentence of between four to six years imprisonment, while the Crown is expected to ask for the maximum penalty of two life sentences.
Vader's testimony spoke to the harsh and abusive conditions faced in the Edmonton Remand Centre and the RCMP detachment in Edson where he was booked.
Vader told the court that he was never given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer about the charges laid in relation to the McCanns' disappearance and that he was publicly stripped search in front of video cameras.
“I still remember today standing there butt-naked in front of the world, being recorded,” he said.
After his bail hearings, Vader was transferred to the Edmonton Remand Centre and immediately placed in what he called “the hole.” According to Vader, unit 5D was a disciplinary unit where the ERC housed “the worst of the worst,” inmates that caused trouble or led gangs.
He described the living conditions as “horrendous” and “horrifying” and recounted having feces thrown at him by other inmates, as well as being verbally harassed at the instigation of the guards. Vader spent six months in this unit, where he was kept under lock and key for 23 hours of the day.
Justice J.B. Veit deemed the treatment Vader received unjust. She transferred him to the Red Deer Remand Centre in December 2011.
When asked by Finlayson in cross-examination whether he could have been placed in segregation for his own safety, Vader replied that he was supposed to be in a different segregation unit meant for high profile cases.
“The staff was not concerned about my well-being. They just wanted to beat the shit out of me,” said Vader, who recounted two separate incidents of alleged physical abuse at the hands of ERC corrections officers in the 5D unit.
Both occurred in late 2010 and one incident left Vader with a broken wrist. He said his injuries were never looked at despite multiple requests.
The second took place before a bail hearing in late October or early November 2010. Vader said he was ambushed and assaulted by guards, who lured him into an area with no cameras then called a Code 44 – called when a corrections officer needs assistance. Vader was thrown to the ground stunned – given knees to the face and body meant to disarm him – and kicked, then handcuffed and thrown into a filthy tank covered in blood and feces to await his bail hearing.
He said he was presented on CCTV bloodied and bruised, then charged with not following a direct order of a guard. He was acquitted of the charge.
“My mother and sister were in the court that day. They were horrified,” said Vader.
Vader's sentencing hearing continues this week and is expected to wrap up Friday.