Crown seeks life sentence for Travis Vader

Vader found guilty of murder of Edmonton seniors Lyle and Marie McCann

EDMONTON – Crown prosecutors are asking for a man convicted of killing two missing Alberta seniors to serve a life sentence.

Travis Vader was found guilty in September of second-degree murder in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann.

The verdict was later revised to manslaughter after the judge admitted he used an outdated section of the Criminal Code in his reasoning.

Vader’s defence lawyer is asking for four to six years in jail.

The sentencing hearing is underway in an Edmonton courtroom.

The McCanns, in their late 70s, disappeared after setting out from their Edmonton-area home on a trip to British Columbia in July 2010.

Their burned-out motorhome and a vehicle they had been towing were discovered in the days that followed, but their bodies have never been found. Following a lengthy trial, Justice Denny Thomas determined that Vader was a desperate drug addict who came across the couple in their RV and shot them during a robbery.

Court heard that Lyle McCann’s blood-stained ball cap was found with a bullet hole in the couple’s SUV. DNA that matched Vader’s was also on the hat and his fingerprint was on a can of beer in the vehicle.

A friend testified Vader was broke, yet showed up flush with cash and driving an SUV that matched the one owned by the McCanns the day they disappeared.

The defence argued that the DNA evidence was sketchy, that witnesses had lied and that — with no bodies and no murder weapon — there was no real proof the McCanns were dead.

“I concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vader committed homicide. He killed the McCanns to facilitate his robbing of them,” Thomas wrote in his manslaughter decision released last month.

Thomas said because he acknowledged and accepted his mistake of referencing Section 230 of the Criminal Code in the murder verdict, a reasonable person would conclude that he wasn’t biased in the case.

Section 230 allowed for a second-degree murder verdict if a killing occurred during the commission of another crime, such as robbery. But the section was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1990.

Thomas also decided he wasn’t quitting the case.

“A reasonable and informed person would not think that I am unable to sentence Mr. Vader on a less serious offence when I had found him guilty of a more serious offence,” the judge wrote.

Defence lawyer Nathan Whitling has said he plans to ask the judge at sentencing to take into account alleged abuse Vader suffered while in custody. Vader has filed lawsuits claiming mistreatment by guards, as well as alleging malicious prosecution.

Vader was first supposed to go to trial in 2014, but the Crown stayed murder charges when it learned Mounties hadn’t disclosed all evidence to lawyers. The charges were relaid nine months later.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.