The Edmonton judge in a much-discussed murder trial has switched the murder conviction of the accused to the lesser crime of manslaughter, admitting he made a mistake.
Justice Denny Thomas told a courtroom on Monday he was wrong to use Section 230 of the Criminal Code to convict Travis Vader on two counts of second-degree murder as the Supreme Court of Canada declared that section unconstitutional in 1990—meaning it no longer carries any weight, although it remains on the books.
"I accept that it was an error," the judge said in court, according to the Canadian Press.
The section said the judge could convict the accused of second-degree murder if he had killed the victims, an elderly couple, while in the middle of robbing them.
In switching his verdict, the judge denied Vader's lawyers' request to declare a mistrial, even though his lawyers argued that he made a "colossal" error and a new trial was the only way to fix the mistake.
"This court cannot proceed to impose a life sentence upon Mr. Vader for an offence that does not exist," his lawyers wrote in a brief.
The case is strange for several reasons. The elderly victims in the case, Marie and Lyle McCann, went missing in July 2010 while on a camping trip in British Columbia. Their burned camper was found, but their bodies were never discovered.
At trial, Justice Thomas agreed the evidence presented at trial proved that Vader robbed and shot the couple, but he didn't find that Vader intended to murder them.
The judge also denied an application from a group of media outlets to livestream Monday's decision, although he previously allowed cameras into the courtroom for his initial verdict.
The Vader case was the first criminal trial in Alberta that saw cameras allowed inside a courtroom.
Vader will be sentenced in December.
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