Brian Malley's murder trial begins in Red Deer, Alta.

The first-degree murder trial of former financial adviser Brian Malley, charged in the death of a disabled single-mother, got underway in a Red Deer, Alta., court today.

Stepfather told Victoria Shachtay not to open gift that turned out to be a bomb

Disabled single-mother Victoria Shachtay was killed by a bomb contained in a wrapped present that was delivered to her home in November 2011. (Facebook)

A Crown prosecutor says an Alberta financial adviser built a pipe bomb in his garage, wrapped it as a present and left it on the doorstep of a disabled client.

Anders Quist told a jury in his opening address Monday in the Red Deer Court of Queen's Bench that Brian Malley wanted Victoria Shachtay dead. The man had lost all of her money and had resorted to giving her cash out of his own pocket, Quist said.

"He was going into debt to keep her going," the lawyer said. "He killed her to cut his losses."

Malley, 57, dressed in a suit and tie, stood in court and pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, causing an explosion and sending a person an explosive device.

His lawyer, Bob Aloneissi, called the charges "horrible and heinous" and told the jury someone else was out to get Shachtay or her family.

Shachtay, a 23-year-old single mother who used an electric wheelchair, died instantly when she opened the green and gold gift bag in the dining room of her townhouse in Innisfail, Alta., 30 kilometres south of Red Deer, on Nov. 25, 2011.

Her live-in caregiver had been in the home but was not injured in the blast. Shachtay's seven-year-old daughter had gone to school.

Accident settlement

Seven years earlier, Shachtay was pregnant at the age of 16 when she was paralyzed in a car crash. Although left a quadriplegic, she didn't lose her baby.

Court heard Shachtay received a $575,000 court settlement in 2007 because of the crash. She then turned to Malley, a family friend, to help her invest the funds.

Malley invested the money, along with another $200,000 he advised Shachtay to take out as a loan, Quist said. But instead of helping her savings grow, Malley lost it all.

He kept making payments to Shachtay — $44,000 worth — but from his own accounts.

Quist told the jury that much of the evidence to be presented during the trial will be circumstantial. No one saw Malley build or deliver the bomb.

But DNA left on a piece of paper taped to the bomb that had Shachtay's name written on it is "consistent" with Malley's DNA, the prosecutor said.

He added that other evidence shows that Malley owned or purchased some of the parts used to make the explosive — a piece of galvanized steel pipe about 15 centimetres long, smokeless gunpowder, an end cap, a light switch, a lantern battery and tiny light bulbs.

Aloneissi said his client was an avid hunter who also did home renovation work, so he had reason to have some of those supplies.

Malley's defence

The defence lawyer argued money wasn't a motive. Many people lost investments due to market fluctuations in 2008, said Aloneissi, who added that Malley also promised Shachtay's mother when she was dying of cancer that he would help take care of her daughter.

"If Mr. Malley decided to take pity on Victoria Shachtay, is that a reason to then kill her? Wouldn't he just stop paying?"

Aloneissi told the jury that after Shachtay picked up the package at her door, she set it aside and went to her stepfather's home. She told him about the present, delivered six weeks before Christmas, and he reacted with fear.

"His response was, 'Don't open it. Call the police,"' said Aloneissi.

"In his mind, he thought it was a bomb. Why would he say that? What does he know?"

Shachtay went home and didn't take his advice, said Aloneissi. The bomb was rigged to go off as soon as the present was opened.

Aloneissi suggested someone else who had "extreme hate" for Shachtay or her family sent the bomb.

The real killer, he said, wanted to send a loud message: "Don't mess with us."

Crown witnesses include Shachtay's sister, stepfather, caregiver, investigators and two neighbours who ran to Shachtay's home immediately after the explosion. 

Five weeks have been set aside for the trial. 

Malley also faces an $80-million lawsuit after being accused of losing roughly $50 million from dozens of clients.

With files from CBC's Meghan Grant