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'It's tough;' son of missing Calgary grandfather speaks after court

A courtroom sketch of Douglas Garland, charged with murder in the disappearance of a Calgary boy and his grandparents, in Calgary, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Janice Fletcher

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A courtroom sketch of Douglas Garland, charged with murder in the disappearance of a Calgary boy and his grandparents, in Calgary, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Janice Fletcher

CALGARY - A member of the Calgary family devastated by the disappearance of a five-year-old boy and his grandparents was in court Wednesday to see the man police believe is responsible for their murders.

"It's tough," Alvin Liknes's son Allen said outside court after Douglas Garland made a brief appearance before a judge and a packed public gallery. "That's all I can say."

Garland faces two counts of first-degree murder and one charge of second-degree murder in the deaths of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O'Brien.

Garland, 54, wore a blue jail jumpsuit and appeared via closed-circuit TV. The case was adjourned to Aug. 14 to allow time for evidence to be disclosed to the defence.

Allen Liknes told reporters that the family has taken strength from the outpouring of emotion and support from the public.

"It helps," he said. "It's incredibly sad, but it helps."

The interview ended, however, when he was asked how his common-law wife Patti — who is Garland's sister — was doing.

"Not good, thanks guys," he said walking away.

Nathan's father, Rod O'Brien, had been at each of Garland's previous court appearances when Garland was only a person of interest in the case and being held on unrelated charges. But he wasn't there Wednesday.

The bodies of the missing three have not been found, but Calgary's police chief says investigators have evidence they are dead.

Crown prosecutor Shane Parker said that makes the case more difficult, but not impossible.

"It's 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 for the police," Parker said.

"Without that we're missing a few bullets, but I've been the adviser for the Crown on this file since the beginning. I'm familiar with the evidence and confident we can make out the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt."

Parker also noted the police investigation may unearth more evidence while the case makes its way through the courts.

"We still have time. We're still hopeful that police are going to continue on with their searches. The investigators are certainly working tirelessly to try and continue the investigation ... not only in finding bodies but other sources of evidence as well."

Garland's lawyer, Kim Ross, said he hasn't had a long conversation with his client and he still hasn't seen any of the evidence.

He said proceeding with a murder trial without bodies is "not uncommon" in Canada. And the fact that the case has garnered intense national attention won't have any bearing on the case, he said.

"It's a case like any other case. We'll see the disclosure and then see how we deal with it," he said.

Ross said Garland "seemed to be doing fine" at the Calgary Remand Centre.

The trio vanished from the Liknes home on June 29.

The couple had held an estate sale at their home that weekend and their grandson stayed for a sleepover, but when his mother came to get him the next morning, no one was home.

The case has captivated people across the country. Thousands of people wrote messages on a blog for the family and police received more than 900 tips from the public, including sightings reported from coast to coast.

Dozens of people have volunteered to search the area around the acreage where Garland lived with his parents.

Court documents show Garland has a criminal record and mental issues.

In 2000, he was sentenced to 39 months for making amphetamines at his parents' farm. Before he went to prison, he jumped bail and lived for several years in Vancouver using the identity of a dead person.

The Parole Board of Canada gave him accelerated release after six months, noting in its decision that Garland's prior criminal record consisted of various property offences over the course of 20 years.

His mental health played a role in the crimes, the board said, but a psychologist determined that Garland had "little violence potential to others.''

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Garland was in a relationship with a member of the Liknes family.

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