By Richard Woodbury
HALIFAX (Reuters) - The case of a Canadian man and American woman accused of plotting a shopping mall massacre in the Atlantic Canadian city of Halifax will proceed to trial, a court confirmed on Thursday, though the trial may not start until 2016.
The 21-year-old man and 23-year-old woman, who are believed to have met online, are accused of planning a Columbine-like mass murder and suicide. They were arrested at the Halifax airport in February, after the woman traveled from Illinois, allegedly to help carry out the plot.
Randall Shepherd, a Canadian citizen, and Lindsay Souvannarath, a U.S. citizen, appeared in court on Thursday for the final day of a three-day preliminary hearing.
A publication ban was imposed by the judge, barring media from reporting details of the case discussed by witnesses or lawyers in the courtroom.
Shepherd and Souvannarath sat on a bench on one side of the courtroom, separated and flanked by sheriff's deputies. Shepherd was engaged in the proceedings, listening intently, while Souvannarath sat hunched over, frequently yawning and often staring straight ahead.
The two will next appear in court on Aug. 6 to set a pre-trial conference, but government attorney Mark Heerema, one of two lawyers prosecuting the case, said the trial is not expected to begin until 2016.
Heerema said the trial would likely last for several weeks, citing the large amount of disclosure involved and "hundreds of thousands of pages" of evidence.
Shepherd and Souvannarath will remain in jail pending the trail. Heerema said the government would oppose any bail application.
The two have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and arson as well as unlawful communication, threatening "through social media" to cause harm or death.
Shepherd and Souvannarath were arrested after police received a tip about their alleged plan to shoot as many people as possible at the Halifax Shopping Centre on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, then kill themselves. Another man believed linked to the plot was found dead in a house in Halifax.
The two men were childhood friends in Halifax and met Souvannarath online, according to media reports. The reports said all three admired the teenagers who killed 12 students and a teacher during a high school shooting spree in 1999 in Columbine, Colorado.
Blogs and a Facebook profile linked to Souvannarath featured dark images of death and Nazism and an image with the words: "Valentine's Day It's going down."
(Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway)