Calgary

Douglas Garland triple-murder trial jurors see images Crown says are bodies on suspect's farm

There were tears in a Calgary courtroom and an abruptly requested break for jurors as aerial photos were displayed showing what the prosecution says are three bodies laid out on the property where a triple murder suspect lived.

WARNING: This story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers

Douglas Garland is on trial for three counts of first-degree murder, accused of killing five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathy Liknes. (Court exhibit/Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

There were tears in a Calgary courtroom and an abruptly requested break for jurors Monday as aerial photos were displayed showing what the prosecution says are three bodies laid out on the property where a triple murder suspect lived. The photos also show smoke from a burn barrel and the shadow of a person standing nearby. 

Douglas Garland, 57, is being tried on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of five-year-old Nathan O'Brien, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathy Liknes in June 2014.

The photos were "created and found through, for lack of a better term, dumb luck," prosecutor Vicki Faulkner told jurors at the start of the trial, now entering its fourth week in the Court of Queen's Bench.

This is the area on the Garland farm where the Crown says three bodies can be seen in photos taken by an aerial survey company. (Court exhibit)

The images were captured on July 1, 2014, around 9:30 a.m. by Paul Gagnon, a pilot and president of Peregrine Aerial Surveys, a digital mapping company contracted to gather mapping data for the City of Airdrie.

The day after Nathan and his grandparents disappeared, images of what appear to be two adults can be seen near three small sheds on the farm where Douglas Garland lived with his parents north of Calgary near Airdrie. A smaller figure is less identifiable.

The bodies — believed by the Crown to be Alvin, 66, and Kathy Liknes, 53 — are face down in the grass without pants or shirts on.

The boy is "curled up on the grass," said Faulkner in her opening statement.

The two suspected adult bodies measure 1.9 metres and 1.7 metres, according to Gagnon's software. But he said it was too difficult to measure the smaller figure.

The bodies of Kathy and Alvin Liknes and their grandson Nathan O'Brien have never been found, but DNA from all three was found at the farm just north of Calgary where the man charged in their deaths, Douglas Garland, lived with his parents. (Coronationfuneralhome.ca)

The day after the images from the farm were captured, Gagnon again flew over the farm. Photos from July 2 show the bodies were gone.

Images taken by police later show flattened and brown grass where the bodies had been.

Disappearance after sleepover

On June 29, 2014, the boy was sleeping over at his grandparents' home in the southwest Calgary neighbourhood of Parkhill. When his mother arrived around 10 a.m. the next morning, all three were gone and the house was smeared with blood.

The bodies of the missing family members have never been found, but jurors have been told DNA from all three, as well as tooth and bone fragments, were found at the farm in rural Airdrie, just north of Calgary.

The prosecution's theory is that the bodies were burned there. A small tooth believed to belong to a child was also discovered in a pile of ashes on the farm.

CCTV footage of pickup

One of the first breaks for investigators came when CCTV footage revealed an older model, green pickup parked on the Liknes's street — 38A Ave. S.W. — just after 3 a.m. on the morning the family members were discovered missing.

The Crown's first witness on Monday was Const. Gerald Bouchard who reviewed CCTV footage of the green pickup gathered by 50 to 60 homes and businesses from June 30, 2014.

"[It] was driving around, it caught my eye," said Bouchard.

Working 14 to 16 hours a day, Bouchard began to pore over the hours of tape provided by homes and businesses. The truck had a noticeable red box light that made it easier to follow, he said.

After the truck parked on the Liknes's street, a shadowy figure walked toward the victims' home.

Ninety minutes later, around 4:50 a.m., the video shows a person getting back into the pickup, which various CCTV images then show travelling on 39th Avenue S.W., Macleod Trail, Glenmore Trail and finally Deerfoot Trail, passing Balzac, heading toward Airdrie.

Though the pickup had appeared empty before arriving in the Liknes's neighbourhood, something "large and white" was in the pickup box after leaving the victims' street.

Truck returns to crime scene

The next block of time Bouchard examined was around 7:20 a.m. when the green pickup was seen travelling from the Airdrie area to the Liknes's street. The truck drives by the house and then carries on to 37th Street and 11th Avenue — the location where Garland had a standing appointment with a psychiatrist every Monday morning.

Earlier in the trial, jurors heard evidence that Garland's green pickup had numerous similarities to the one spotted on the video. 

Two weeks after the massive search for Nathan and his grandparents began, Garland was arrested and charged with their murders on July 15, 2014.

Garland is connected to the Liknes family through his sister, Patti Garland, who was in a common-law relationship with Alvin Liknes's son, Allen.

Patti Garland, her parents and Allen Liknes all testified earlier in the trial that Garland harboured a grudge against Alvin Liknes after a business relationship soured years earlier.

  • See the latest updates in live tweets from CBC reporters in the courtroom. On mobile? Click here to see the live blog.