PICTOU – Only one witness testified Friday in the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Falconer, but she had plenty to say.
Sgt. Darlene MacEachern of the RCMP’s identification unit took the witness stand early Friday morning to speak about the physical evidence she collected during the Amber Kirwan missing person and homicide investigation two years ago.
Falconer is charged with the first-degree murder in relation to the death of 19-year-old Kirwan who went missing Oct. 9, 2011. Her remains were found in Heathbell on Nov. 5.
MacEachern said she first became involved in the Kirwan investigation when she was notified on Oct. 15 by a co-worker that clothing and earrings were found in Heathbell. She didn’t attend the scene, but kept in contact with the officer involved in the collection of these items.
On Oct. 16, MacEachern said she assisted the identification unit in the seizure of Mason Campbell’s red Ford focus. She looked at the exterior of the vehicle and examined it for fingerprints or “anything different on the vehicle.”
She told the Crown that she didn't’ find anything of significance in the car, but under cross-examination by defence lawyer Mike Taylor, she acknowledged some of the items in the car would have been significant in the investigation if it was seized after Kirwan’s remains were found.
For example, Taylor said a roll of duct tape in the vehicle was processed, but he questioned if more attention would have been given to it after the body was found. She agreed that timing of seizing the car probably made a difference on how items were processed.
Taylor asked her to list other items found in Campbell’s car that included an open car kit, clothing, shoes, booster cable, water bottle, DVD player, video gaming machine and controller, car parts, duct tape and packing tape. She said a small portable shovel was also in the trunk of the vehicle that had some mud and leaves on it.
She said there was dust and mud on the outside of the car and she made a note that some of that dirt was missing because of marks that extended from front to back that could have been made by tree branches.
Following her analysis of the Ford Focus, MacEachern became involved again in the Kirwan investigation on Nov. 4, when she was called to the New Glasgow Police Department to make arrangements for a search in a wooded area in Heathbell Road the next day.
She said she asked for some branches to be cut down along a logging road in Heathbell so her vehicle could get up the roadway.
Once she was at the site, an area of three metres squared was gridded off and a test section was done.
“We did a test hole to see if anything was there,” she said, adding the team dug down about 12 inches and found white greyish matter. She said they kept digging around the area and eventually they could see the outline of a body.
A tattoo was visible on a foot as well as on the right side of the back. She said both the victim’s wrists were tied with a black sweater and a blue and black shirt and towel. There was no other clothing on the body.
She said several pieces of duct tape were also on the right side of the sweater and the shirt was ripped while the sweater had a piece missing from it.
As MacEachern went through the exhibit photos with jury, she explained that the victim had a wound in her chest area and more in her upper neck and upper back. Her hands also had defensive wounds.
The remains were taken to Halifax for an autopsy by Nova Scotia medical examiner Matthew Bowes who is expected to testify Monday in the month-long trial.
On Nov. 8, MacEachern said she attended a seizure of items at a property on Hardwood Hill Road that housed both a mini-home and travel camper. Inside the camper, she said a silver piece of duct tape was found on the floor in the hallway and another piece on a counter.
She said she found blue ink on the duct tape from the floor and when she put it under a forensic light, it had the word Dooly’s on it, similar to an admission stamp used by the bar.
MacEachern said a multi-coloured towel found on the foot of the bed in the camper also had the same texture, colour and thickness as a towel found wrapped around the remains in Heathbell. She said the barcode and price tag on the towels also matched.
A piece of black fabric was also seized from the floor of the bedroom in the camper as was a pop bottle and water bottle on a cabinet beside the bed. Hair was found on the headboard of the bed.
MacEachern said the identification unit was at the Hardwood Hill property for several days, but on Nov. 7 she was also informed that a grey, Chevrolet Impala driven by Falconer was being seized by police.
Inside the Impala, she said the RCMP seized a laptop computer and plastic material with duct tape on it that was sitting behind the driver’s seat. A white bag behind the passenger’s seat was also examined and its contents included a black tank top, sandwich wrapper, tissue, receipts, a plastic bag, scraps of paper, a package that once contained scissors, a green pill bottle that had white residue in it, a yellow post-it note with a phone number on it and a roll of duct tape.
She said the black tank top was dirty and had some leaves on it. It also tested positive for blood. MacEachern added that fingerprints were found on the bag that contained the tank top.
Under cross-examination, Taylor asked about the collection of items in Heathbell and if more than one person was assigned to seizing the items. MacEachern said there were two people involved, including an officer with the New Glasgow Regional Police Service and the RCMP.
He also questioned how many times she changed her gloves when was sorting evidence.
"Well it's always important for the jury to make decisions on whether or not the evidence that they've been hearing about and will hear more about in the future is reliable and the issue of contamination is always something that has to be considered," Taylor told the media following the court session.
The trial will resume Monday morning with the Nova Scotia medical examiner on the stand.