LATEST UPDATE: Testimony focuses on discovery of body

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PICTOU – The focus of a first-degree murder trial in Pictou Supreme Court turned from New Glasgow to Heathbell Road Thursday.

An artist’s rendering of Mason Campbell during testimony Thursday at the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Falconer. Sketch by Joan Krawczyk

Christopher Alexander Falconer is facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of Amber Kirwan between Oct. 9 and Nov. 5, 2011.

For the past few days, witnesses included family and friends who spoke about their time with Kirwan on Oct. 8 and 9. Her friends attended a party at Kirwan's apartment in Pictou Landing and she jumped in a cab with them to go to Dooly's bar in New Glasgow around midnight.

Her boyfriend, Mason Campbell, finished his testimony Thursday recapping how he left their apartment to pick up Kirwan after receiving a call from her around 1:40 a.m. on Oct. 9. He said he drove to Royal Canadian Legion parking lot and around the area of North Provost Street in hopes of spotting her since she didn't show up at their pre-arranged destination of Big Al's.

When he didn't see her, he drove a party guest home to Stellarton and circled back to the front of Dooly's.

When he couldn't find her, he said he thought she probably stayed with a friend so he retuned home.

"At that point, it's not common to be too worried about the worst that can happen. I was a little bit worried. Not like her to stay out and not tell me about it. I wasn't expecting the worst at that time."

He said he returned to their apartment between 2:40 and 3:30 a.m. but left again a while later to look for her. He turned around a short distance from his home after seeing two cabs heading towards his house, but neither pulled into his driveway.

Campbell said he waited on his bed with three phones beside him and in the morning he called her friends and his mother to tell her that Kirwan didn't come home.

"I started texting on her phone, contacted my mother, got really worried at that point. I told my mother what happened. My mother called the police station and hospital. "

He said he also put up a Facebook post and started searching around Dooly's for her with her friend's that afternoon. He said he didn't want to contact her parents right away because he didn't want to worry them.

Campbell said the next weeks are a blur to him because he was living on cigarettes and lacking sleep. He was chasing down tips even though the police were telling him to stay out of the investigation.

He said he received a phone call from his mother Nov. 5 telling him Kirwan's remains had been found.

"I was numb. Everything came crashing down. It was our worst nightmare."

Under cross-examination, defence lawyer Mike Taylor asked Campbell about an assault charge in 2012 involving a wooden spear. Campbell said the matter was settled with a peace bond because he wanted to "turn the page on that situation." He said he had the spear at home for protection.

Taylor asked him why didn't tell police he was intoxicated the night he went to pick up Kirwan or the state of his car's inspection or insurance. He said he was focused on Kirwan and figured the information was irrelevant.

The defence also asked about police seizing Campbell's Ford Focus and the contents. Campbell said he knew there was clothing, a small shovel and duct tape inside his car. He said the shovel was part of a roadside kit and the police also asked about a missing tire iron that he had stored in another location.

Campbell told the defence and Crown many times he had difficulty "recalling" some of the exact details in 2011 because it was two years ago and he was exhausted at the time.

Following Campbell, the focus of the trial turned to Heathbell Road where Kirwan's remains were found about a month after she went missing.

Heathbell resident Nathan Goodall testified he worked with Campbell at Michelin and found out two days later at work that it was his girlfriend who was missing. He said his common-law partner, Lisa Williams, was upset over the news.

"Through the week, we wanted to do whatever we could. I went to work one day and came home and it was bothering Lisa that she saw a car on the field access road," he said. The access road was located near their property, on the same side of the road as their home.

She walked down the road on Oct. 14 and he followed her a while later with their baby. She found a piece of material on the ground.

He said it was a small pair of pants or leggings. They also found earrings and tire tracks. He testified that the pants were on the ground between a tree and rock while the feather earrings were in a tree.

Goodall said he knew Chris Falconer as a child and his father, Scott Falconer, lives in the area.

Under cross-examination, Taylor asked Goodall if he found it strange that Campbell visited his home around the time the police were in the area.

"At the time found I found it odd," he said. "But at the same time, they would have known there was police around there and curious as well. They were asking a lot questions about what police were up to."

Williams said she saw a town car at the end of an access road near their property when she was driving home around suppertime on Oct. 11, 2011. She said about five days later she decided to walk down to the area with her dogs.

"I felt I should walk there to ease my mind, " she said.

Williams said she was getting ready to leave the access road when she spotted black material on the ground.

"It turned out it was pair of black leggings," she said. "Everything was surreal. One leg was cut."

She told a similar story as Goodall about how they left the items there and returned to their home to call the police.

She said the road was blocked off for a few days following their find, but when police and search and rescue volunteers left the area, she and Goodall continued searching.

"I felt she was there. I felt that they missed something. So we continued to search," she said, adding that they looked in some abandoned buildings in the area. "I wasn't stopping. I really felt she was there somewhere."

She and Goodall both said they searched on the opposite side of the road from their home and wandered up an old logging road in Heathbell since the search by police and volunteers focused on their side of the road.

Williams said they came across a loose piece of ground off the logging road and she started digging in the area.

"I instantly go down on my knees and started digging with my hands," she said. "I was pulling up strips of moss. I thought, 'oh no, what am I going to find?" 

Williams said she eventually stopped digging and they left, but she asked Goodall to go back and check it out.

"There was nothing," she said.

On Oct. 28, 2011, three New Glasgow Police officers were discussing Kirwan's missing person's case when Det. Jason MacKinnon said he travelled the Heathbell Road recently and noticed that searchers only marked one side of the road.

MacKinnon testified that he and two other officers, one of whom was Robin Hatt of the New Glasgow Regional Police Service, drove out to the area that day and spotted a logging road.

They got of the vehicle, walked in the road about 400 feet and turned back. It was then that Hatt noticed some scuff marks along the side of the logging road, leading to an embankment.

MacKinnon said Hatt made his way down the embankment to an area of ground that looked like it had been disturbed. He snapped three photos on his phone and took GPS co-ordinates of its location.

Hatt testified that he sent the photos to Nova Scotia's medical examiners office on Nov. 4 and described the location of the site in relation to where the clothing was found. The next day, he returned with other officers and the province's medical examiner.

"Dr. Bowes got my attention after they started the initial dig," he said. "He asked me to come over. I was off to one side shifting dirt. He asked me to take a look at a hole in the ground. I saw white flesh, believed to be human."

He said he contacted his police department a short time later and told them that human remains had been found.

Testimony will continue today (Friday) with a member of the RCMP's forensic identification unit. 

Organizations: Royal Canadian Legion, Campbell's, Ford Focus New Glasgow Regional Police Service RCMP

Geographic location: Dooly, New Glasgow, Pictou Landing Stellarton Heathbell Road Nova Scotia

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