LATEST UPDATE: Testimony at murder trial focuses on clothing fibres, cell signals

Published on January 21, 2014
Christopher Falconer, facing a charge of first-degree murder, is shown in this artist’s rendition sitting in Pictou court with two sheriffs. Artist sketch by Joan Krawczyk

PICTOU – A black piece of material found in a camper trailer in Hardwood Hill matches a sweater that was worn by Amber Kirwan the night she disappeared.

RCMP textile and fibre specialist Dr. Steven Pitts testified Tuesday during the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Alexander Falconer that the cloth located in the bedroom of the camper is a match to the victim's sweater because of its same colour, texture, structure and chemical composition.

The black piece of fabric was found in the bedroom of the camper in Hardwood Hill that also had Kirwan's hair on the headboard of the bed. Also taken from the bedroom for testing was a blue blanket that was on the bed.

Falconer is charged in connection to the death of Kirwan who went missing from a downtown New Glasgow street Oct. 9, 2011. Her remains were found in Heathbell on Nov. 5, 2011. The trial is into its third week at Pictou Supreme Court in front a 13-member jury made up of seven women and six men.

Pitts also looked at the taping of fibers from a black tank top found in the accused's car and a blue polyester blanket found in the camper.  He said the fibers on the tank top, captured from taping, matched those from the blue blanket.

Under cross-examination, he said, that blue polyester is mass-produced and can be found in many different items including clothing.  When defence lawyer Mike Taylor asked if it was possible that fibres could be transferred from a sweatshirt or jacket with blue polyester to the tank top he agreed.

Crown attorney Patrick Young said the fibre expert's testimony is another important piece of physical evidence that is part of a long line of evidence the jury will soon be deliberating on. So far, 45 exhibits have been entered into evidence by the Crown and the jury has heard from 36 witnesses.

"It paints a bigger picture," he said. "Fibres from a back bedroom of the camper are on a T-shirt that had Amber Kirwan's DNA and the accused's DNA."

But Taylor challenged this claim by saying that the fibres don't put his client in the camper, it only shows that he came into contact with some blue polyester.

"These fibres come from various sources," he said. "It's doesn't add to the suggestion that Mr. Falconer was actually there. There was some good information out of today's evidence. It's good to understand other reasons why fibres are there and that Mr. Falconer may not have had anything to do with it. It is for the jury to weigh."

The afternoon testimony focused on cellphone technology and how a person's cellphone signals off of different towers in the county.

RCMP intelligence officer Robert Aboumitri, who specializes in communications data, was given information from the local cellphone service company and the text messages from the case to track Falconer's movements during the early morning hours of Oct. 9.

He said cell site signals and corresponding text messages show Falconer's phone pinged off a tower in New Glasgow at 1:46 a.m. Oct. 9 and then another signal was captured from the Pictou area at 2:07 a.m.

A little later at 2:23 a.m. a text went to his phone from the Piedmont tower and another text was sent from his at 5:05 a.m. from the Pictou tower, which was the same time that Falconer texted a girlfriend to say he was at this father's place in Heathbell.

Aboumitri said the Piedmont signal could have been a "pocket area" that his cellphone picked up and doesn't mean that he was actually in the Piedmont area. He said the Pictou tower would have picked up pings from the Heathbell area.

Although the information cannot tell him which road the accused drove on or pinpoint exactly where he was at time his phone was being used, it can locate a general area that has a cellphone tower near, he said.

Taylor said the cellphone testimony showed that there was a "wide area of coverage from various cell phone towers" that can't be pinpointed to one place.

"Signals can be picked up from different towers, not necessarily in terms of how close to the location that the phone is," he said. "A message may have been picked up by a tower that is quite a distance away. It's difficult to tell if it puts a cellphone in a particular area."

However, the Crown said the cellphone testimony heard Tuesday gives weight to the credibility of the text messages that were heard earlier in court.

"The tower evidence and text messages are collaborative of each other," said Crown attorney Patrick Young.

Crown attorney Bill Gorman told Justice Nick Scaravelli that Aboumitri was the Crown's last witness and he expects the Crown will close its case Thursday after a few legal housekeeping matters are taken care of.

The defence will then have an opportunity to call witnesses if it so desires. Court will not be sitting on Wednesday due to the impending blizzard expected to hit the county. Proceedings will resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m.