Travis Vader defence says other suspects will be named during trial

The day Lyle and Marie McCann were last seen alive, a cellphone they carried for emergencies was used to make seven calls and send two text messages. All went to a woman named Amber Williams, who was Travis Vader's ex-girlfriend.

Murder trial of man accused of killing Alberta couple opened today in an Edmonton courtroom

Travis Vader, centre, and his lawyer, Brian Beresh, arriving at the Edmonton courthouse Tuesday morning for the beginning of a murder trial expected to last six weeks. (CBC)

The day Lyle and Marie McCann were last seen alive, a cellphone they carried for emergencies was used to make seven calls and send two text messages.

All went to a woman named Amber Williams, who was Travis Vader's ex-girlfriend.

Those details emerged in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench on Tuesday morning as Vader's first-degree murder trial got underway.

As the trial opened, the prosecution for the first time listed key pieces of evidence it said were gathered by hundreds of RCMP officers who investigated the deaths of the McCanns.
Lyle McCann, 78, and his wife, Marie McCann, 77, were last seen alive in July 2010. (CBC)

Crown prosecutor James Stewart said the elderly couple's SUV was found on July 16, 2010, almost two weeks after they were last seen alive.

Inside the SUV, police found canned goods the couple had purchased for their trip to B.C. Those cans were spattered with Marie McCann's blood.  

Lyle McCann's hat was found inside the SUV, with his blood on it. Stewart said Vader's DNA was found on the hat, and his DNA and a fingerprint were found on a can of beer in the front-seat console of the SUV. He said Vader's blood was also found on the centre armrest and on the front passenger seat and steering wheel.

Lyle McCann was 78 and his wife was a year younger. Whenever the St. Albert couple travelled, they carried a cellphone for emergencies.

Records showed that cellphone was used four hours and 11 minutes after the couple was spotted on video leaving the St. Albert Superstore on July 3, 2010.  
After the flames were put out, this was all that was left of the McCanns' motor home. (CBC)

Stewart said seven calls were made in a span of just under five minutes, followed by two text messages, all to Williams.

The Crown said Vader, 44, and Williams, both crystal meth addicts, broke up in June 2010, but Vader persistently tried to win her back with phone calls, text messages and on Facebook.

Williams is expected to testify that Vader used the McCanns' cellphone to try to contact her.  

The Crown also hinted about another key witness named Dave Olsen.

Stewart said Olsen will testify that he saw Vader twice in Peers, Alta., on the day the McCanns disappeared.

"The first time he was driving a stolen pickup truck and had no money," Stewart said. "A few hours later, he was driving a green Hyundai SUV and had money."  

Vader's lawyer, Brian Beresh, dropped a bombshell of his own in court Tuesday morning, telling the judge at the outset of the trial he wants access to all DNA analysis done in the case.

Even before opening arguments in the judge-alone trial began, Beresh suggested that hair found at the scene could show "who could be the actual suspect in this case."

Beresh told the judge that RCMP investigators had "tunnel vision" and ignored DNA evidence that didn't match his client.

​"Travis Vader has waited many years for the opportunity to clear his name and to finally lift the cloak of suspicion," Beresh said.

He attacked the RCMP and their handling of the case, calling the investigation "inept." He said police were under pressure to solve the case quickly, and focused on the wrong person without considering other suspects.

"The names of those suspects will be revealed at this trial," he said.

Beresh said the defence will argue that "Mr. Vader became publicly the number 1 villain. Unfortunately, the authorities picked the wrong villain."

Beresh said he plans to call a number of experts to testify in the areas of blood spatter, DNA, hair analysis and fingerprints.  

RCMP investigators search a home near MacKay, Alta., on July 20, 2010, the day after Travis Vader was arrested. (John Ulan/Canadian Press)

It has been more than four years since Vader was charged with murdering the McCanns.

In a January decision on an abuse of process application made by the defence, Justice Denny Thomas wrote: "Mr. Vader's long and interrupted march to the courtroom is troubling.

"For years the alleged murders have cast a shadow over Mr. Vader's life," Thomas wrote, "but that shadow will only lift if Mr. Vader has the opportunity to answer and respond to the allegations against him at a trial."

Vader's lawyer said his client believes he can get justice, and was eager for the trial to begin.  

"The trial's put off, then it's back on, then there's the attempt at the stay," Beresh said. "You can appreciate that that's very trying."

The McCann family has also been waiting for some sense of closure.

Bret McCann, son of the dead couple, called it a marathon and said he's glad the finish line may be in sight.

"We are keenly looking forward to finding out what happened to my parents," he told reporters in January.  

University of Alberta law professor Steven Penney said one of the challenges the prosecution will face is proving the McCanns are dead.  

"That is not something that is insurmountable from the prosecution's perspective," he said. "But it does present them with a hurdle. Because they're going to actually have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these two individuals are actually dead."

The trial is taking a one day break before testimony resumes on Thursday.