A preliminary hearing got underway Tuesday for a man charged in the deaths of two boys who were killed by a python two years ago in northern Campbellton, N.B.

Jean-Claude Savoie is charged with criminal negligence causing death after the two young brothers were asphyxiated by an African rock python.

Four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother Connor were found dead on Aug. 5, 2013, after the snake escaped its enclosure inside Savoie's apartment, where they were staying for a sleepover.

Defence lawyer Leslie Matchim says the matter has "taken a toll on Savoie." He was not in court Tuesday and won’t be for the rest of the hearing.

“There is a provision in the criminal code that expressly authorize a court, a judge to excuse an accused from being present for the pelim inquiry,” said Matchim. “In this instance we did bring an application. It is not a provision that is often used but we did make an application in this instance and put evidence in front of the court.”

Details of the application, along with anything detailed in the preliminary inquiry, are under a publication ban.

The RCMP alleged at the time that the 45-kilogram snake escaped a glass tank through a vent and slithered through a ventilation pipe, but its weight caused the pipe to collapse and it fell into the living room where the boys were sleeping.

Savoie was arrested Feb. 5 near Montreal, where he now lives.

Matchim says his focused on his own son who also inside the building the morning the boys died.

Deputy Mayor Ian Comeau says residents in the area have been asking for the building to be torn down.

An adjacent property has already been demolished.

“The house where the mother and the two kids lived was demolished a couple months after the tragedy and it’s something that was probably a good thing that it took place,” said Comeau.

The province set up a task force in response to the boys deaths. It made a series of 29 recommendations, including better enforcement and site inspections where exotic animals are kept.

Four days have been set aside for the preliminary hearing to determine whether the case will go to trial.

With files from the Canadian Press and CTV Atlantic's Nick Moore.