Red Deer triple murder trial schedule threatens to derail 2 Calgary cases

A judge in Red Deer, Alta., who is trying to protect a triple first-degree murder trial from derailing may be putting two Calgary trials at risk of exceeding deadlines imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada — which means men accused of either killing or plotting to kill could walk free.

Trial likely to need more time, but defence lawyers booked for other cases next month

Jason Klaus is on trial for first-degree murder in Red Deer. He and Joshua Frank are accused of killing his parents and sister in 2013. (Supplied )

A judge in Red Deer, Alta., who is trying to protect a triple first-degree murder trial from derailing may be putting two Calgary trials at risk of exceeding deadlines imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada — which means men accused of either killing or plotting to kill could walk free. 

On Monday, the first-degree murder trial began in Red Deer for Jason Klaus, 41, and his friend Joshua Frank, who are accused of killing Klaus' parents and sister — Gordon, Sandra and Monica Klaus.

The three died in a house fire in Castor, Alta., on Dec. 8, 2013. Klaus and Frank were charged eight months later. 

The defence lawyers involved in the Klaus and Frank trial also have major trials beginning in Calgary the week after the Red Deer trial is scheduled to end.

But it will almost certainly need more time and Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin, who is hearing the trial in Red Deer, says he plans to plow through despite the scheduling conflicts.

​"I'm not going to adjourn this trial so that other trials can proceed," Macklin said in court on Monday. 

That means a man accused of killing his wife, and three Calgary gangsters facing charges of plotting a murder, could walk free if those trials are rebooked, causing further delay.

A 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling dealt with the issue of unconstitutional delay by imposing hard timelines on trials. For superior court matters, a case can take 30 months from the date of a charge to trial.

Judges have the power to stay — essentially drop — charges if they feel the accused's right to a timely trial has been violated. 

The Red Deer trial which began Monday has already lost three of its seven weeks; it faced a two-week adjournment at the outset so defence lawyers could prepare to fight the admissibility of evidence gathered in an undercover operation. Also, the judge isn't available the week of Nov. 20.

'We're going right through'

Prosecutor Doug Taylor has indicated he needs the remaining four weeks to call his 35 witnesses, but defence lawyer Allan Fay says both he and Frank's lawyers are also likely to call evidence.

Macklin says the trial should resume Nov. 27, but that's the week the two other trials involving all three defence lawyers are set to begin in Calgary.

"So we're looking at a continuation, no matter which way you slice this," said Klaus' lawyer, Allan Fay.

Justice Macklin said if the Klaus and Frank trial is adjourned, they are likely to have continuation dates in 2019. It has already been more than 38 months since the two men were charged.

"This trial's going to have to finish and we're going right through," said Macklin.

Even though defence lawyers argued unsuccessfully earlier this year that their clients rights have been violated by unreasonable delays from charge to trial, that issue could be re-opened if there is further delay.

2 Calgary trials at risk

All three defence lawyers involved in the Red Deer murder trial are set to begin two Calgary trials at the end of November.

On Nov. 29, Toni Roulston and Andrea Urquhart are supposed to represent Henry Nguyen on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

Their client and two others were charged nearly 55 months ago after police uncovered a plot to kill a rival gangster.

Nguyen was a member of the FOB gang, one of Calgary's most violent criminal organizations. A gang war between the FOB and the FK (FOB Killers) is connected to at least 25 deaths between 2002 and 2009.

Shannon Madill, 25, was reported missing on Dec. 1, 2014. Her husband, Joshua Burgess, was charged eight months later with second-degree murder after her remains were found at their home. (Calgary Police Service/Facebook)

Two days before Nguyen's trial, Allan Fay's client Joshua Burgess' second-degree murder trial is supposed to get underway. Burgess is accused of killing his wife Shannon Madill and hiding her body at the home the couple shared in Ramsay. He was charged 28 months ago.

That trial was originally set for February 2018, but prosecutor Susan Pepper was concerned about the Jordan timelines, so she and Fay had it rebooked for November.

Macklin said he will do what he can to help and he told the defence lawyers that he plans to contact the two other judges involved in the November trials.

"It looks like the acute problems this court faces are coming to a head," said Macklin. 

With files from Janice Johnston