When Travis Vader finally goes on trial to face first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann in March, many keenly interested people in St. Albert will likely breathe a sigh of relief. This summer will mark six years since the retired St. Albert couple disappeared and by that time, their family, friends and neighbours should know whether the man police believe killed them is guilty of the horrendous crime.
But until that crucial decision is rendered, it is important we all presume Vader’s innocence. It is after all, the job of Crown prosecutors to prove Vader’s guilt. That is why this week’s decision by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Denny Thomas is so important. In his thoughtful ruling, Thomas explained that after a long and often confusing process in this case, justice demands that the evidence against Vader be heard in a trial.
Though Vader was originally named as a person of interest weeks after the McCanns disappeared on July 3, 2010, he would not be charged with their murders until April of 2012. Those charges would be stayed on Feb. 24, 2014 because police had failed to share more than 500 documents, including forensic evidence, with Vader’s defence lawyer. The counts against Vader would remain that way until Dec. 19, 2014 when a prosecutor, independent of the original Crown team on the case, recommended they be processed again.
According to the judge, veteran defence lawyer Brian Beresh came close to proving that the stay represented an unreasonable delay and threatened Vader’s right to a fair trial. Beresh also contended that the Crown deliberately used the extra time to strengthen its case. Recent media reports that looked at documents related to the case have indicated that evidence includes DNA. Despite the delay, Beresh contends that the Crown was unable to dig up anything new against Vader and that his client looks forward to his trial.
In his judgment, Thomas concluded that he had to strike a balance between the damage the stay may have caused Vader and “the societal interest that Mr. Vader face a full and proper adjudication of his alleged very serious conduct.”
Now that the dust has settled on Vader’s recent hearing, no doubt both Crown and defence are working overtime to prepare their cases. It is an enormously difficult task and the trial is scheduled for 31 days. While it is in all of our interests that a government prove charges against anyone beyond any reasonable doubt should they be charged with a crime, it is also crucial to never forget Lyle and Marie McCann. By all accounts they were gentle people whose bodies have never been found.