Jim Lutz: Laura Coward to face trial in 2017 for first-degree murder of daughter, 9

A 49-year-old mother faces a six-week jury trial starting Feb. 21, 2017, in the death of her nine-year-old daughter, whose body was found in a truck on a rural road near Sundre last year.

Laura Coward, who was ordered fit to stand trial on Sept. 3 following a four-day preliminary hearing, faces a count of first-degree murder.

Crown prosecutor Mac Vomberg and defence lawyer Jim Lutz told court on Friday they had discussed key issues that enabled them to reduce what was an originally-scheduled eight-week trial by two weeks.

Lutz had argued for committal on second-degree murder, but provincial court Judge John Bascom ruled there was evidence to go ahead on first-degree.

Coward is accused of causing the death of Amber Lucius.

She was first charged with abducting the girl against a court order, but later had the charge upgraded to first-degree murder, which carries an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without chance of parole for 25 years.

Cause of death has not been released and a publication ban granted to Lutz prevents reporting any of the evidence from the preliminary hearing.

RCMP said after charges were laid they believe Amber was killed sometime between Aug. 31, when her father reported she had not been returned, and Sept. 2 when her body was found.

Duane Lucius had been granted residential care of Amber in July 2013, according to court documents.

Coward remains in custody pending trial.