LATEST UPDATE: Expert testimony at murder trial – victim's DNA on top found in car

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PICTOU – Amber Kirwan's DNA and that of the man accused of killing her were found on the same piece of clothing along with another unknown DNA sample.

Christopher Falconer with sheriff in foreground is shown earlier this week in sketch by Joan Krawczyk.

Thomas Suzanski, an RCMP forensic biologist, who was handed the task of the finding DNA from exhibits in the Kirwan investigation, testified Thursday in Pictou Supreme Court this is the only piece of evidence tested that has DNA from both Kirwan and Christopher Falconer on it together. 

Falconer, 31, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Kirwan who went missing from downtown New Glasgow on Oct. 9, 2011. Her remains were found in Heathbell in a muddy grave off a logging road on Nov. 5.

Police forensic officers testified earlier in the trial that the tank top was found inside a bag located in the back seat of his car. Witnesses who knew Falconer testified he was often seen wearing similar dark-coloured tank tops.

Suzanski said after retesting the tank top four different times, he located DNA on the back of the shirt, near the neck line, that clearly matched Falconer. Kirwan's DNA was found on the front of the shirt near the bottom.

However, under cross-examination, defence lawyer Mike Taylor also pointed out that test results show DNA from a third unknown person was found on several locations on the tank top. 

Suzanski confirmed the finding, but he added it was from a "mixed profile," meaning that a clear DNA profile couldn't' be identified. However, he agreed with the defence that there was clearly a third person's DNA on the shirt.

"There was DNA there from at least three people and as you heard from the expert, there is DNA from at least three people in several spots and DNA that could not have been attributed to Mr. Falconer," said Taylor following Thursday's court session. "I hope it will tell the jury where the DNA came from and who actually contributed to the DNA and placed it there."

He said the Crown wants the jury to draw inference that Falconer was in contact with that tank top at the relevant time, but he said it’s clear there was other DNA on the tank top that could lead to the conclusion that someone else was involved. 

Suzanski said the more someone handles an object, more of a person's DNA will rub off on to it. He said there is no way to tell how long DNA had been on an object, when it was placed there or how it got there.

Crown attorney Bill Gorman said the tank top is a link in the evidence chain and the evidence can't be looked at one piece at a time. He said DNA evidence clearly shows Kirwan was at the camper trailer.

"The evidence we heard from Tom Suzanski today, our DNA expert, the conclusions that he made were those we were aware of going in, and it’s just another piece of evidence in our overall presentation of the case and when it goes to the jury they will have all the tools they need to arrive at a verdict," he said.

Suzanski reviewed many reports that contained the results of DNA testing done between 2012 and 2013.  Kirwan's DNA was found on a black cloth located in the bedroom of a camper trailer in addition to duct tape found on the camper floor. Hair from the headboard of the bed was also matched to Kirwan as well as hair found on the duct tape. Her DNA was found on a towel located in the trailer and a shoe located on Ross Street, New Glasgow.

Taylor pointed out that none of her DNA was found in a Chevrolet Grey Impala driven by Falconer with exception of the tank top inside a bag in the car. He added that Falconer's DNA was not found in the camper trailer, gravesite, autopsy or in the Impala other than on the tank top.

"Mr. Falconer's DNA is not found at several locations where DNA was acquired and Ms. Kirwan's DNA was not found, in my opinion, in locations you might expect it to be found either," said Taylor.

He added where the DNA wasn't found is just as important as where it was located.

"It (Kirwan's DNA) is found all nice and wrapped up sitting in a bag on the floor in the back of a car and no other DNA was found from her in that vehicle at all, so that is a question the jury is going to have to wrestle with."

A knife seized from Falconer didn't have enough DNA on it for testing, but the blade of the same knife had DNA from three different people in a mixed sample so no individuals analysis could be done. The DNA expert said at least one of the samples on the knife blade were male.

Suzanski said many times during his day-long testimony that if a sample contains DNA from more than one person, it is difficult to create any kind of DNA profile that could be matched to anyone.

A ball cap found on an access road in Heathbell near where the clothing was located has unknown male DNA on it that was labelled male one. Unknown male DNA found on a towel knot that was around Kirwan's wrists was labelled male two and unknown male DNA from a syringe found in the ditch in Heathbell near the gravesite was named male three.

Suzanski said testing ruled out Falconer and Mason Campbell, Kirwan's boyfriend, as matches to male one, two or three.

As far as the DNA testing process goes, Suzanski said many people have a say in what gets tested for DNA samples, but nothing was tested more than the black tank top.

"There was a lot of re-examination of exhibits done," he added. "The police or Crown wanted the exhibits re-examined."

The trial opened Thursday morning with testimony from Deno Miller who spent the Oct. 8, 2011, weekend with Alice Meier and her children.

Miller said Meier, who is Falconer's step-sister and owns the Hardwood HIll property where the camper was located, arrived at his girlfriend's cottage in Caribou Island on Oct. 8 in the afternoon with boyfriend Roger Irving and her two children. They spent the night there and she called Falconer the next day, Oct. 9, to bring them out some more beer.

Miller testified that Falconer arrived around 1 p.m. with a 24-case of beer and another man with him. He said Falconer stayed for about a half an hour, but he didn't notice what Falconer was wearing or driving at that time. He told Gorman that Meier spoke to Falconer while he was there, but he didn't say much to him.

He said Meier and her children left the cottage later in the afternoon.

Testimony will continue Friday when four of Falconer's friends are expected to take the stand.

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Heathbell, New Glasgow, Ross Street Caribou Island

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