LATEST UPDATE: Medical examiner at murder trial describes wounds suffered by victim

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PICTOU – Evidence collected from three different places during November 2011 was the focus of witness testimony Monday at the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Falconer.

Christopher Falconer trial

The 31-year-old Pictou County man is accused of killing 19-year-old Amber Kirwan between Oct. 9 and Nov. 5, 2011. She was last seen by friends leaving a downtown pool hall on Oct. 9 and her remains were found about a month later in Heathbell.

Last week, testimony was heard from family and friends who last spoke to Kirwan and ended Friday with testimony from an RCMP forensic unit member involved in the seizure of items from Heathbell and Hardwood Hill.

On Monday, Nova Scotia medical examiner Matthew Bowes took the stand to tell the 13-member jury that he believes KIrwan bled to death from a collection of multiple wounds on her back and neck.

Bowes became involved in the Kirwan investigation a few days before he personally attended the Heathbell site on Nov. 5 along with members from his office as well New Glasgow Regional Police and RCMP. 

He oversaw the excavation of the gravesite and performed an autopsy on Kirwan's remains in Halifax. Bowes said Kirwan was identified early on because of characteristic tattoos.

"The cause of death is multiple stab wounds," confirmed Crown attorney Bill Gorman during his questioning of Bowes. "The mechanism of death is bleeding to death."

Bowes agreed and added that the stab wounds on her back and neck didn't strike any part of her brain or spine.

He said a stab wound on the chest that reached the heart was done either as she was dying or dead.

He added that there were defensive wounds to her left hand, some of which cut a finger into two pieces and others that went right through her hand. He could not confirm the type of weapon used in the offence, but his best guess was a single-edged weapon.

Bowes said Kirwan's wrists were bound together with an orange towel tied in several knots and a black and blue piece of fabric that had duct tape on it.

Kirwan's body was decomposing at the time of discovery which made it difficult to get conclusive answers on some of the tests. For example, he said, alcohol in her body had a high reading but when a body decomposes it can make alcohol.

He said codeine was found in her system along with acetaminophen, commonly found in Tylenol 3 drugs. He estimated she had as much as 10 times the normal amount of codeine in her system, which would have sedated her.

However, he said, he is sure she did not die of a drug overdose and he stressed that he could not give an exact time of death.

"It would be pointless to give a number," Bowes said.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Mike Taylor, Bowes said he couldn't tell when the stab wounds were inflicted nor could he say how long it took the victim to bleed to death. He added that there would have been a significant amount of blood in the area where she bled to death.

Afternoon testimony wasn't as graphic as it focused more on examination of the physical evidence collected at the Heathbell site and Hardwood Hill Road camper.

RCMP Cpl. John Boswell said he processed a shirt of Kirwan's for many things such as hair, fibres, blood and any biological matter. He said the blue and black shirt had quite a bit of soil on it and the left side was cut from top to bottom. It also had two puncture marks that ranged in size from 1.5 cm to 2.5 cm. He added the left shoulder strap of the shirt was severed and there were two stained areas on the back of the shirt that tested positive for blood.

However, he cautioned the jury, the blood tests were presumptive and not conclusive since more analysis was needed. 

Boswell said he also examined a towel and fleece blanket found in the camper at Hardwood HIll camper.

Under cross-examination by Taylor, the RCMP corporal said hair was located on the shirt as well as a piece of fibre. He said blades of grass were found on the towel and numerous hairs and fibres were found on the blanket.

RCMP Cpl. John Landry assisted Boswell in the examination of these pieces of evidence, but he also worked at the Heathbell site on Nov. 5 and 6, where 16 exhibits were collected. He examined clothing seized from a Brother Street apartment which included some socks, gym pants, a muscle shirt and shorts.

Cpl. Trevor Penny, an RCMP officer out of Halifax, was the last witness of the day to testify and he spoke about the forensic analysis of a grey, Chevrolet Impala that had been driven by Falconer.

He said there was plastic on the driver's side door stuck to the vehicle with duct tape and fingerprints lifted from the hood. Inside the vehicle, he seized a partially smoked marijuana joint from the car console, a white bandana with black on it, green tank top, laptop computer, removable hard drive device and black mag flashlight. He said a roll of duct tape was found behind the driver's seat on the floor and another in a plastic bag in the back seat.

On the floor of the rear passenger side and on the passenger seat was red multi-coloured rope while in the trunk he seized a box of latex gloves.

Penny told Taylor he looked at the under carriage of the vehicle but didn't see any visible damage, only dirt and grass.

Forensic testimony will continue Tuesday with a fingerprint expert and possibly a toxicologist who will speak about any drugs found in Kirwan's body. 

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Pictou County, Halifax, Nova Scotia Hardwood Hill Road

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