The man accused of killing three Calgarians will remain in police custody until the middle of next month as lawyers sift through evidence preparing for a murder trial without the most important piece of evidence: the bodies.
Douglas Garland, 54, appeared briefly in a courtroom on Wednesday via closed-circuit television from the Calgary Remand Centre. Crown prosecutor Shane Parker and defence lawyer Kim Ross agreed to set Mr. Garland's next court appearance for Aug. 14. Both sides need time to review evidence from Calgary police. Investigators on Tuesday morning charged Mr. Garland with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder.
Mr. Ross, who has experience in high-profile cases, said that while it is difficult to know whether the lack of bodies will help his client, it has worked in the favour of some people accused of murder.
"It is certainly not uncommon in Canada," he told reporters after Mr. Garland's brief hearing in provincial court. "Certainly there has been cases when that's been done."
Travis Vader, for example, in 2012 was charged with first-degree murder in the case of a couple from St. Albert, Alta. Their burned RV was found four years earlier, but not their bodies. Charges against Mr. Vader were stayed at his retrial.
In another case, a jury found Jacob Wanner not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, whose body was never found.
Police accuse Mr. Garland of murdering Alvin Cecil Liknes and Kathryn Faye Liknes and their five-year-old grandson, Nathan O'Brien. The first-degree murder charges, which are laid when police believe the crime was premeditated, are tied to the Liknes couple, while the second-degree charge is related to Nathan's death. Mr. Garland was arrested on Monday morning, after the three had been missing for two weeks. Police are still searching the rural property near Airdrie belonging to his parents, where Mr. Garland lives.
Mr. Ross would not disclose whether he was appointed to the Garland file or hired. "I won't discuss that," he said. "I'm retained on behalf of Mr. Garland."
Crown prosecutor Shane Parker, who has squared off against Mr. Ross before, is not deterred by the fact the bodies are missing. Police still have time to find them, and he, too, pointed to past cases.
"It is obviously a little more challenging because bodies provide a whole lot of evidence for a jury, they provide a whole lot of evidence from a forensic standpoint normally for the police," Mr. Parker said. "Without that, we're missing a few bullets."
Mr. Parker is privy to some of the evidence and said he is "confident that we can make up the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt."
Alois Dolejs in 1987 was convicted of murdering his two sons, Paul, aged 12, and Gabi, who was 10. The bodies were not discovered until the year after Mr. Dolejs was found guilty.
Allen Liknes, Alvin Liknes's son, sat in the courtroom for Mr. Garland's brief appearance. Allen Liknes is in a common-law relationship with Patti Garland, Mr. Garland's sister. Allen Liknes thanked the community for supporting the family through vigils and other signs of support, such as a release of green balloons on Tuesday evening.
"The family has taken a lot of strength from it," he told reporters after the hearing. "It helps. It is incredibly sad, but it helps."
Asked how his common-law partner is doing, he said: "Not good."
Mr. Liknes wore a green ribbon, which community members have been wearing and tying to trees and railings as a sign of support.
The next step in Mr. Garland's case is to schedule a preliminary hearing.