Vader could walk free if defence argument holds

The judge in the Travis Vader case is reserving his decision on sentencing the convicted killer in the killings of St. Albert seniors Lyle and Marie McCann until Jan. 25. If the defence gets its way, Vader will be a free man.

While lawyer says Vader should be released for time served, Crown calls for life

The Crown is asking for a life sentence in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann in 2010. (CBC )

If the defence gets its way, convicted killer Travis Vader could be a free man in three weeks.

Vader was convicted of manslaughter in October for the July 2010 killings of St. Albert seniors Lyle and Marie McCann.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Denny Thomas has reserved his decision on sentencing Vader until Jan. 25. The sentencing hearing wrapped up Wednesday.

Vader's lawyer, Nate Whitling, has argued for a four-to six-year sentence while the Crown is asking for life in prison.

Vader has been in prison for most of the past six years. Whitling argued that Vader should get six years' credit for time already served "because of the highly, highly unusual amount of delay that occurred prior to the commencement of the trial."

The McCanns were last seen alive at a gas station in St. Albert in July 2010 as they were starting a road trip to British Columbia.

The McCanns' bodies have not been found and Vader has not admitted to killing the couple.

​A drawn-out case

The case has had its share of blunders since Vader was first arrested in July 2010.

"There's been a lot of twists and turns," Whitling said.

In September 2016, Thomas convicted Vader on two counts of second-degree murder, finding the couple died during a robbery.

Lyle and Marie McCann were last seen alive at a gas station near their hometown of St. Albert. (CBC)

But Thomas had relied on an outdated part of the Criminal Code, something he later admitted was a mistake.

The defence called for a mistrial but the convictions were instead downgraded to manslaughter at the end of October.

On Wednesday, the final day of Vader's sentencing hearing, Thomas called it an "ever-expanding" case.

"I need at least three weeks to pull it all together," the judge told the courtroom.

Consecutive vs. concurrent

In written submissions, the Crown requested a sentence of life in prison "for the second manslaughter with a concurrent sentence of 15 years for the first manslaughter."  That would mean Vader would serve sentences for both deaths at the same time.

In December, at the start of the sentencing hearing, Thomas told the court that all sentencing options should be subjected to full argument, including consecutive sentences.

On Wednesday, Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson suggested that if the judge doesn't sentence Vader to life, Vader could be given consecutive sentences instead.

In an interview Wednesday, Whitling said it's unusual for a judge to point out the possibility of consecutive rather than concurrent sentences.

"I was surprised by Justice Thomas raising it on behalf of the Crown, because usually it's the Crown's decision whether or not to raise that issue," he said.

Because the crimes were committed before changes to the Criminal Code in 2011, Vader cannot be given two consecutive life sentences.

Sentencing Jan. 25

Members of the McCann family will be in Australia when the sentence is slated to be handed down. Defence and Crown agreed to have a video link to a courthouse in Australia so the family can hear the sentencing from there.

Thomas told Vader on Wednesday to think about what he wants to say to the court before the sentence is handed down on Jan. 25.