Vader defence lawyer shifts spotlight on alternate suspect in McCann killings

Travis Vader's lawyer Brian Beresh promised to reveal the names of alternate suspects in the deaths of St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann. On Thursday, he seemed to do just that.

Former Vader friend tells murder trial about criminal past of another man who would ‘steal anything’

William Nikolyuk leaves the Edmonton courthouse Wednesday after testifying at Travis Vader's trial. He was on the stand again on Thursday. (CBC)

On the first day of the Travis Vader murder trial, Vader's lawyer insisted Mounties had charged the wrong man.

Brian Beresh promised to reveal the names of alternate suspects in the deaths of St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann.

On Thursday, he seemed to do just that.

Beresh was questioning William Nikolyuk, a former friend of Vader's.  But he wanted Nikolyuk to tell him all about Terry McColman - another man in their circle of friends. The questions appeared to be aimed at pointing the finger of blame at McColman as the real killer.

Nikolyuk described McColman as a heavy drug user who was also involved in "lots of theft."

He testified his long-time friend never had a job.

"He'd steal anything to survive," Nikolyuk said.

He said he has watched McColman expertly break into a locked vehicle and start it without a key in under a minute. Nikolyuk testified McColman also broke into houses and had a signature move

McColman liked to ransack a house after he broke in.

"He'd turn it upside down," Nikolyuk said. "He would tear everything apart. It would be like a tornado going through. He wouldn't try to hide his fingerprints or anything."

He said McColman liked to stash some of his stolen treasures in the unused houses he broke into.

The trial also heard from the owner of the abandoned property where the McCann's SUV was discovered on July 16, 2010.

Janette Samson-Rotor said there were definite signs some of the buildings had been broken into and ransacked. She testified she spotted some items that didn't belong to her.

When Nikolyuk looked at exhibit photos of the property, he said "it kind of looks familiar." He agreed with the defence that, "it looks like work McColman would do.  Leave a place like this."

One of the key pieces of evidence at the trial is a can of Boxer Beer found in the front console of the McCann's SUV. The prosecutor said Vader's DNA and fingerprint were on the can.

Nikolyuk testified Boxer Beer was a favourite of Terry McColman's. He saw him buy cases of that brand more than a dozen times.

'It was cheap," he said. "Terry was a penny pincher."

There are two burned vehicles central to this case, the McCann's motor home and a stolen Ford pickup truck.  An RCMP officer has testified he found the McCann's SUV keys stashed in the back of the burned out truck.

Nikolyuk said "once or twice" he has watched McColman torch vehicles he stole to destroy evidence. He even had a favourite method for lighting the fires that involved dousing diesel in the interior.

When Nikolyuk looked at pictures in the courtroom of the burned Ford truck, he said he thought it looked like something McColman might do.

Disclosure documents made available to the media at the beginning of the year show RCMP did have their eye on McColman during the investigation.  An arrest document was issued for him on Aug. 11, 2010 and he consented to a polygraph on Jan. 20, 2011.

But McColman will not take the stand at this trial, and won't be able to defend himself.  He died in the spring of 2011.

One other item in the RCMP disclosure package referred to a funeral card for McColman, dated May 25, 2011.