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Family confident in RCMP though charges stayed

Family confident in RCMP though charges stayedTravis Vader is shown in an RCMP handout photo. Charges have been stayed against Vader, who was accused of murdering missing Alberta couple Lyle and Marie McCann. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP

EDMONTON - A mysterious murder case involving two missing Alberta seniors is no longer going to trial and the lawyer representing the RCMP's only named suspect is blaming investigators for rushing to court on shoddy evidence.

Lyle McCann and his wife, Marie, both in their 70s, were last seen alive as they fuelled up their motorhome in St. Albert, a bedroom community northwest of Edmonton, in July 2010. Their bodies have never been found.

Mounties quickly named Travis Vader a person of interest and later a suspect in the McCanns' presumed deaths. Nearly two years later, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

The Crown abruptly stayed the charges Wednesday during a pre-trial hearing, just a few weeks before the case was set to go before a jury.

The McCann family said in an emailed statement that "this isn't over."

"Though we see this as a delay in our search for justice, our family remains confident that the ongoing investigation will lead to the conclusion of this matter."

They urged anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers, adding they continue to offer a $60,000 reward for information "that helps bring our loved ones home."

Vader's lawyer, Brian Beresh, had harsh words for police and prosecutors. He said officers publicly condemned his client without proper evidence and the Crown sped ahead with its prosecution, proceeding by direct indictment rather than holding a preliminary hearing.

"There was not now, and never was, a realistic or serious chance of any conviction," Beresh told reporters outside court.

He said he was still fighting for disclosure of evidence from the Crown for the upcoming trial. The evidence he did see, he said, was "shoddily gathered ... a bunch of strings that was never tied together."

He said the RCMP investigation was extensive and estimated it involved hundreds of officers and cost millions of dollars.

Greg Lepp, head of the province's Crown prosecution service, explained that his office recently received new evidence from the RCMP. He said he couldn't reveal what that evidence was, only that prosecutors need time to examine it and can't proceed with the trial.

He said the file remains open and prosecutors were to sit down and explain the decision to the McCann family. He would not say if Vader is still considered a suspect.

"The goal has always been to bring who ever is responsible for these deaths to justice and that continues to be the goal."

A stay means prosecutors can reactivate the charges within one year. Beresh said hauling Vader back to court on the charges would amount to an abuse of process.

He said his 42-year-old client was "shocked and elated" by the news, but knows it has come at a price. Vader has been a suspect in the case for so long the public thinks he is guilty, the lawyer said.

"He will always be tarred with that brush."

Vader still faces other charges unrelated to the McCann case and remains in custody. His mother, Jennifer Vader, said it was a busy day for her family and she did not want to make any further statements.

Relatives of the McCanns did not return phone calls.

RCMP spokeswoman Josee Valiquette said the investigation into the McCann's death continues.

"In order to protect the integrity of our investigation, which remains active, the evidence obtained, the privacy of those involved, the RCMP will not offer comment during the course of this investigation," Valiquette said late Wednesday.

The force was criticized early in the investigation when the couple's burned-out motorhome was found. Documents inside linked it to the McCanns and police phoned the couple and knocked on the door of their house.

But they didn't begin searching until five days later, after the McCanns' daughter reported her parents hadn't shown up in Abbotsford, B.C., for a family camping trip.

RCMP explained at the time that the case didn't immediately set off alarm bells because vehicles are often found burning in the bush and it's not unusual for people to be away from home during the summer.

Mounties also faced embarrassment when they revealed tipsters had come into a detachment in Prince George, B.C., saying that they had spotted the SUV the couple had been towing behind their motorhome. RCMP admitted that they hadn't taken down the tipsters' contact information.

Police spent several days searching the area around the burned-out motorhome. Vader was arrested on a long list of outstanding warrants at a rural home in the same area where the vehicles were found.

Earlier this year, Vader filed a lawsuit against the RCMP and justice officials, claiming they kept him behind bars on trumped-up charges until he could be charged with murdering the McCanns. The charges he was being held on, which include passing off a forged employment letter in court, were later dropped.

In 2013, a judge declared a mistrial in another case against Vader. He was convicted on drug trafficking and weapons charges, but before he was sentenced, it was discovered that some evidence had not been properly disclosed to the defence.

The judge cited the RCMP as "negligent" and ordered a new trial, which is to be heard by a judge without a jury in November.

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