Vader trial continues to attack evidence handling

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Travis Vader’s lawyer continued to focus on how evidence was handled during the investigation into the disappearance of Lyle and Marie McCann.

The St. Albert couple went missing in July 2010 and Vader was subsequently charged with their murder. Their bodies have never been found.

On Monday morning, testimony revolved around a stolen brown Ford F-350 that was taken to the St. Albert RCMP detachment for secure store.

Const. Cameron Blumel said he was told the truck was related to the McCann investigation, and he explained how on Aug. 13 he secured the bay where the truck was kept until Aug. 16, when a forensic identification officer could examine it.

During a brief cross-examination, he noted he couldn’t recall if the truck had a tarp on it, or whether it came with a regular tow truck or on a flat deck truck.

Court also heard from Const. Jason Young with the Alberta RCMP’s auto theft unit, who described being asked by investigators to go to Edmonton Salvage to examine a truck there.

He said he found several items in the back of the truck, including a tidy tank, a fire extinguisher, a yellow Jerry can, a fifth-wheel trailer hitch, several plastic containers and some plastic hose.

He noted the inside of the vehicle had been burned, and smelled of diesel fuel. He also said he found a piece of a propane bottle between the driver and passenger seats.

On the engine, Young said he noted “jumper-type wires that were connected to the battery, routed through the truck and to the back tidy tank.”

He said he had also been tasked with finding a mechanic to do a vehicle inspection, and got one from City Ford in St. Albert to do it.

During his cross-examination, Defence lawyer Brian Beresh introduced another book of photos, identified as Exhibit 17, and focused on the fact the scene of the salvage yard was not secure and could have easily been accessed by members of the public.

On a business day, he said, people come into the yard, take parts off vehicles, buy them and leave.

“Anybody coming into the yard could have access to the vehicle,” he said. “While it was there anybody could have gained the same access you did.”

Beresh also suggested the truck had been in the yard for 25 days before Young attended, to which Young said he had no knowledge of that.

Beresh said he could finish his cross-examination shortly after the lunch break. Further testimony about the truck is expected in the afternoon. The brown truck is the one the Crown has previously referred to, saying the McCanns’ SUV key was found in the box of the truck.

No evidence or statement to that effect was made this morning.

A friend of Travis Vader who drove him around in the months before the McCanns disappeared in July 2010 testified Friday afternoon.

William Nikolyuk told court he has lived in the Wildwood area of Alberta his whole life, and while he didn’t go to school with Vader because there was a few years’ age difference, they knew each other from having both lived in the area.

In the spring months of 2010, Nikolyuk said he got to know Vader better some time in March because of his relationship with his friend Amber Williams. He eventually began driving for Vader, who did not have a licence at the time, and this went on for about a dozen times.

Nikolyuk said he would drive him to go shopping or visit friends in the areas in and around Mayerthorpe, McKay and Wildwood. They would also hang out together on occasion.

“We did just regular friend things. He might stop at my house for a drink or two once in a while. I asked him to help on the farm once or twice when I didn’t have anyone else around,” he said.

Nikolyuk said that at the time he was struggling with gambling and drug-addiction issues. He said that he was using between half a gram and one gram of crystal methamphetamine three or four times per week.

When asked where he would get it – or in which community – he was vague.

“It’s all over. It’s everywhere,” he said. “Almost every town, from here to Jasper.”

Nikolyuk said he would use meth either alone or with friends, and said he had used when hanging out with Vader, but said he never saw Vader using the drug.

“He was with the same friends, so I presume he did, but never used with him,” he said. “But he dated a person that did.”

Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson asked Nikolyuk about the time he spent in custody, from May 31, 2010 to July 17, 2010, and asked him about contact he had had with Vader between his release and Vader’s July 20 arrest.

Nikolyuk said he spoke with Vader once or twice while he was in jail, and asked Vader to check in on his girlfriend Teri Johnson.

“If she needed money for food and that, I would phone to ask him to help her out,” he said.

He said he spoke to Vader once, on the phone, after he was released July 17.

Finlayson asked Nikolyuk several times specifically about buying groceries for Vader, seeing Vader in an area of tall grass near a ball diamond next to his property, or having conversations with Vader face to face. Finlayson also asked if Nikolyuk had seen Vader in a white Ford F-150 pickup truck.

He answered no to all those questions, but said he had given groceries to another man the night he had been released from custody.

“That night, I gave Terry McColman (groceries), he pulled up in a white Ford,” he said. “He pulled up on the ball diamond side and I was on the farm side of the fence.”

Finlayson suggested it might assist his memory to look at transcripts of police interviews given in late July and early August 2010.

Nikolyuk said he had been undergoing IV treatment for blood poisoning at the time and had been mourning Johnson, who was killed in a collision Aug. 3, during the period when the RCMP interviewed him.

Finlayson applied to be able to cross-examine him about inconsistencies between his testimony and the interview transcripts, which is a several-step process.

Justice Denny Thomas reviewed the transcripts and agreed there were inconsistencies.

Beresh noted the next step would be to establish that the transcripts were accurate, and Finlayson said he would have to call the RCMP officer who gave the interviews to testify that they were.

That testimony, and further testimony from Nikolyuk, is expected Wednesday, March 23.

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Doug Neuman