Amber Kirwan stabbed at least 10 times: medical examiner

Amber Kirwan mounted a vigorous defence against her assailant before she died, Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner testified Monday at the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Alexander Falconer.

Warning: Story and live blog contain graphic details

Amber Kirwan, 19, disappeared in October 2011. Her remains were found a month after her disappearance. (New Glasgow Police Service)

Amber Kirwan fought back against her killer before she bled to death from at least 10 stab wounds, Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner told the court on Monday at the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Alexander Falconer.

The testimony proved to be the most graphic so far, but that didn't stop people from sitting in court to hear it for themselves.

One by one, people secured a spot in line outside the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in Pictou.

Several were turned away because the room was filled to capacity.

"I know all the Kirwan family. I grew up with them, they were all down in my area so we're here to support them," said Jim McNeil.

Once in the courtroom they heard a grisly description.

Dr. Matthew Bowes told the jury it was apparent that the 19-year-old was stabbed multiple times, but it's impossible to tell how many because the wounds were so close together.

"I think that Amber bled to death from this collection of wounds," Bowes testified.

He said most of the stab wounds were on her neck and upper back, but one went through her heart. He said several stab wounds found on her hand were inflicted with such force that one of the fingers on her left hand was nearly severed.

"Amber was trying to fend off an attack by someone and rather vigorously I would say," he said.

"The injuries on her left arm and had were defensive. She was trying to fend off an attack."

He couldn't say for certain what weapon was used, but his best guess is a single-edged knife.

Bowes was part of the team that unearthed Kirwan's partly decomposed body from a muddy grave in woods of a rural logging road outside New Glasgow on Nov. 5, 2011. The discovery was made about a month after she disappeared following a night out with friends at a pool hall and bar in New Glasgow.

Time of death unclear

Bowes also said a high level of codeine was also found in Kirwan's system.

Defence lawyer Mike Taylor pointed out in his cross-examination that exact levels are often difficult to detect.

"In addition, there's always a question about time of death. And it was pretty clear from Dr. Bowes's evidence that you just can't tell those things," he said.

"It's not like watching a TV show where they pinpoint the time of death to the minute or to the hour or the day."

Bowes said Kirwan was likely buried days if not weeks before she was found.

As Kirwan's parents listened, they chose to sit in the back of the room.

"They don't want to see autopsy photographs and they didn't want to be the centre of attention as they listened to the evidence because, as you can imagine, that's tough to hear," said Crown attorney Bill Gorman.

Even those who don't know Kirwan's family personally were disturbed by what they heard.

"It was awful. It wasn't good at all. Not something somebody wants to hear," said Bonnie Doyle.

"My heart goes out to Amber's parents," said Margaret Gordon.

Three RCMP investigators also testified on Monday. They explained the evidence they seized and examined.

The toxicologist is expected to take the stand on Tuesday.

Falconer, 31, has pleaded not guilty. The trial is scheduled to last until Jan. 31.

With files from Angela MacIvor and The Canadian Press