EDMONTON — A judge has sentenced a man to life in prison for killing two Alberta seniors who disappeared on a camping trip, but Travis Vader's lawyer says an appeal will be filed before the week is out.
Vader was found guilty of manslaughter last fall in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann, who were in their 70s when they vanished after leaving their home in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton, in July 2010.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Denny Thomas dismissed a defence submission that Vader should get a lesser sentence because his rights were violated in custody. He did, however, agree to a defence request that Vader serve his sentence in British Columbia because of threats he has received.
Travis Vader was found guilty of manslaughter last fall in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. (Photo: Amber Bracken/CP)
Thomas said Vader will be eligible for parole in seven years.
"This court has convicted an innocent man and I will continue to fight until I clear my name,'' Vader said Wednesday before the sentence was handed down.
Vader's lawyer, Brian Beresh, said outside court that his client "was not pleased.''
"As he said in court, he will fight to his last day to prove he is innocent. We intend to launch that fight, probably this week, by filing a notice of appeal.''
Beresh said the case is troubling.
Travis Vader's lawyer Brian Beresh speaks to media after Vader was convicted Sept. 15, 2016. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)
"After 40 years of practice, I must say this is one of those few cases which haunts me and remains a mystery in terms of what occurred and how we have gotten to this point.''
Some members of the McCann family, including son Bret McCann, were listening via video link from Australia, where they are visiting his daughter.
They had to get up at 2 a.m. for a two-hour drive to a courthouse in Melbourne to hear the sentence.
"When the judge said life imprisonment, it was a huge relief,'' McCann said. "I would have gone anywhere to hear that.''
McCann said the family is thrilled to know that "Vader will spend the prime years of his life in prison and the public will be protected from this criminal.''
He said there can never be true closure for the family because nothing will bring his parents back. "But this is definitely a chapter closing ... We're going to make an attempt to go on with our lives.''
The family hopes that Vader's failure to acknowledge his crime and his lack of remorse will persuade future parole board panels to keep him in prison. The family will be at those hearings, he said.
“But this is definitely a chapter closing ... We're going to make an attempt to go on with our lives.”
Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson pointed out that just because Vader will be eligible for parole after seven years, "it does not mean he will get parole.
"In fact, we're confident the parole board will deal with everything appropriately.''
The McCanns' burned-out motorhome and a vehicle they had been towing were discovered in the days after they disappeared, but their bodies have never been found.
Lawyer: no witnesses to deadly robbery
During his verdict last year, Thomas described Vader as a desperate drug addict who came across the McCanns and killed them during a robbery.
The Crown had asked for a life sentence. Prosecutors argued Vader showed no remorse after the killings, used the McCanns' cellphone the same day to call an ex-girlfriend and took their money to buy beer and a phone card.
The defence suggested Vader should receive four to six years, but get at least six years of credit for pre-trial custody.
Vader's lawyer Nathan Whitling had argued that the case was based on speculation, because there were no witnesses and the McCanns' remains have not been found, so it is impossible to say how they died.
The time Vader has spent in custody on the case is complicated. He was arrested on outstanding charges when the McCanns disappeared, but was not charged in their deaths until 2012. The Crown stayed murder charges before a trial in 2014, then reactivated them months later.