EDMONTON — An Edmonton judge has changed his murder verdict to manslaughter in the high-profile case of Travis Vader and the two missing seniors he was convicted of killing.
Lawyers had returned to court to argue about whether there should be a mistrial because Justice Denny Thomas used an outdated section of the Criminal Code in his original verdict.
Thomas told Court of Queen's Bench that he made a mistake when he convicted Vader last month of second-degree murder in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann.
The McCanns, in their late 70s, disappeared after setting out on a camping trip from their Edmonton-area home to British Columbia in 2010.
Lyle and Marie McCann are shown in an undated handout photo. (Photo: Handout/The Canadian Press)
"I am glad to see this. I am glad to see this come to an end,'' said Bret McCann, the couple's son, when reached on the phone.
"I am glad that Vader will be in prison for a long time. I am glad that the public will be safe. At some point in the future, he will be looking for parole and I am hoping that he shows remorse and lets us all know where my parents' bodies are.''
In finding Vader guilty, the judge used Section 230 of the Criminal Code, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1990. The government didn't remove the section from the book, as antiquated laws are rarely repealed.
Section 230 allowed for a second-degree murder verdict if a killing occurred during the commission of another crime such as robbery. Otherwise, there must be intent to cause death or bodily harm that one knows is likely to cause death.
The burning motorhome belonging to Lyle and Marie McCann is shown in an evidence photo released at the Travis Vader trial. (Photo: Handout/The Canadian Press)
"I accept that it was an error,'' Thomas told court at the start of the mistrial hearing Monday.
Thomas told court his written decision for the change will follow.
Thomas said in his original verdict that Vader was a desperate drug addict who came across the couple in their motorhome and shot them during a robbery.
He said in his verdict that he found no evidence Vader intended to kill the McCanns and ruled out a planned and deliberate first-degree murder.
Travis Vader was found guilty last month of second-degree murder in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. (Photo: Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press)
The defence had argued that the judge couldn't go back and find Vader guilty of second-degree murder on other grounds, so the only solution was a mistrial.
The Crown wrote in its arguments that the judge could still do more analysis for second-degree murder or substitute the verdict with manslaughter.
Thomas set aside two weeks beginning Dec. 12 for a sentencing hearing.