Douglas Garland triple murder trial jury selected after hundreds summoned to Calgary court

Hundreds of people packed into the Calgary Courts Centre on Wednesday as a jury of 16 was selected for the trial of a man accused of killing Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O'Brien.

Nathan O'Brien, 5, and grandparents Alvin and Kathy Liknes were last seen in June 2014

Nathan O'Brien, centre, and his grandparents, Kathy and Alvin Liknes, have not been seen since Nathan's mom left the Likneses' home in the southwest Calgary community of Parkhill on June 29, 2014. Douglas Garland was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. (Calgary Police Service)

Hundreds of people packed into the Calgary Courts Centre on Wednesday as a jury of 16 members was selected for the trial of a man accused of killing Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O'Brien.

Douglas Garland was charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the three mysteriously disappeared from a Calgary home in June 2014.

Garland's trial is expected to start Monday and last five weeks.

More than 450 people were called for jury selection in the ceremonial courtroom — the Calgary Courts Centre's largest — where events like judges' swearing-in ceremonies, citizenship ceremonies and jury selections are typically hosted.

Garland, along with Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Hall and lawyers for the prosecution and the defence were set up in a smaller courtroom as potential jurors were brought in one by one to take part in the selection process.

Bodies never found

The bodies of Nathan and the Likneses have never been found.

The boy was at an impromptu sleepover with his grandparents, but the three were gone when Jennifer O'Brien arrived to pick up her son the next morning. The inside of the home was covered in blood.

After a two-week search, Garland was arrested and charged with three counts of murder.

Garland has connections to the family: his sister was in a common-law relationship with Alvin Liknes's son, and he also had past business dealings with Alvin Liknes.

Garland's trial is expected to start Monday. He has connections to the Liknes family: his sister was in a common-law relationship with Alvin's son, and he also had past business dealings with Alvin. (CBC)

Because of the intense media coverage, defence lawyers Kim Ross and Jim Lutz successfully applied to go through a process called a "challenge for cause."

In Canada, jurors are typically selected with lawyers knowing little aside from the occupation of a potential panel member.

Challenge for cause involves asking prospective jurors a set of questions — pre-approved by a judge — that are designed to expose bias.

"We have a high-profile case where members of the community may know the individual or may know a lot about the trial," said Michael Nesbitt, a University of Calgary law professor.

14 jurors selected

Despite the attention the case initially received, Nesbitt said, many people will have forgotten the details.

"Merely knowing a little bit about the trial, saying, 'I recognize the name' or 'Yes, I think I know what that might be about,' isn't enough to be dismissed for bias in this case," Nesbitt said.

Though a typical jury consists of 12 members, in this case 16 people were selected — 14 jury members plus two alternates — to protect against a mistrial in the event anyone drops out due to unexpected circumstances.

Eleven men and three women were chosen to form the jury.

"I understand this will cause you some inconvenience," said Justice Robert Hall to the hundreds of potential jurors gathered earlier in the day. "It is part of the price we pay for living in a free society."

Hall said there are several reasons an individual can be excused from jury duty, including not being old enough, not being a Canadian citizen, working for the police or military or being an elected official. 

Prosecutors Shane Parker and Vickie Faulkner expect to call about 60 witnesses. It's unknown if the defence will call any evidence.

A quick recap of major events in the case that saw a five-year-old boy and his grandparents go missing. 1:15

With files from The Canadian Press