In a rare move, the Ontario government has approved a Crown request to send Dellen Millard and Mark Smich straight to trial on charges of first-degree murder in the death of Tim Bosma, speeding up the high-profile case.
The decision means the case will not first be the subject of a preliminary hearing, which had been scheduled to begin in September.
"The procedure is unusual, it's unique and it's unfortunate in my view," said Ravin Pillay, one of Mr. Millard's lawyers. "I think it's against our interests and I think it encumbers the ability to make a full answer in defence."
Bypassing the preliminary hearing means that the co-accused's legal teams will not get a full opportunity to test the Crown's case and prepare for trial, Mr. Pillay said.
"There are … many very serious cases that are presently in Ontario under this particular Attorney-General that are not being preferred, there is no direct indictment. People are getting preliminary hearings," Mr. Pillay said. "We can't know why this case is treated this way and other cases are treated differently because we're not given that."
The process for approving direct indictments is a secretive one that occurs outside normal court channels. Crown attorneys apply to the Attorney-General, who makes the final decision without publicly releasing reasons.
"The power is an extraordinary one and is used infrequently in Ontario," the 2005 Crown Policy Manual says. "Generally, counsel may make a request for the Attorney-General's consent to a direct indictment where there exist compelling circumstances which require, in the interests of justice, that the matter be brought to trial forthwith, bearing in mind the strength of the Crown's case and the seriousness of the charge."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of the Attorney-General would not confirm that a direct indictment has been issued, but she noted that the matter is scheduled to appear in the Superior Court of Justice in Hamilton on Friday.
"The Crown will make its position on this matter known in court at the appropriate time," spokeswoman Heather Visser said in an e-mail.
Mr. Pillay said he was notified that a direct indictment had been granted earlier this week. The trial date has not yet been determined, but could occur next year.
Mr. Smich's lawyer, Thomas Dungey, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Bosma's wife, Sharlene, "has been made aware" of the development, said Peter Lowe, a family friend.
The badly burned remains of Mr. Bosma, 32, were found on Mr. Millard's rural property after the Ancaster, Ont., father took two men to test drive his pickup truck in May, 2013. Mr. Millard, 28, and Mr. Smich, 26, remain in custody.
In addition to the Bosma charges, Mr. Millard and Mr. Smich were charged in April with first-degree murder in relation to the death of Laura Babcock, who disappeared in the summer of 2012.
Mr. Millard, an heir to his family's aviation business, faces an additional count of first-degree murder in the death of his father in November, 2012, which was initially deemed a suicide.
Mr. Millard's girlfriend, Christina Noudga, 22, faces a charge of accessory after the fact in Mr. Bosma's death.
A direct indictment was used in the case of Michael Rafferty, who was found guilty in 2012 of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction in the death of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford.