Amber Kirwan

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

Jury members in the Amber Kirwan murder trial in Nova Scotia have started their deliberations to assess Christopher Alexander Falconer's innocence or guilt after receiving final instructions from the judge in a Pictou courtroom on Monday.

The 19-year-old woman was last seen alive by friends after leaving Dooly's pool hall in downtown New Glasgow in the early hours of Oct. 9, 2011. Her naked remains were found about a month later in a shallow grave in Heathbell in Pictou County.

Falconer, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the New Glasgow teen's death.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Nick Scaravelli gave his instructions to the jury after nearly three weeks of testimony and told them their own memories of the evidence is what counts.

"You must consider the evidence and make your decision without sympathy, prejudice or fear," Scaravelli said.

"You must not be influenced by public opinion."

 

The six women and six men of the jury now have three possible verdicts: not guilty, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of second-degree murder. Scaravelli told the jury the second-degree murder verdict will apply if they believe Falconer caused Kirwan's death but did not kidnap and forcibly confine her.

The Crown must prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. "Absolute proof" is impossible, said the judge.

Scaravelli pointed out there was no eyewitness who saw Kirwan with Falconer, or who saw him kidnap her or stab her to death. The Crown does not have a murder weapon. They also did not find any of Falconer's DNA on Kirwan's body.

The Crown had witness testimony and text messages that traced Falconer's movements from the time Kirwan was last seen. Her body and clothes were found in a shallow grave close to the home of Falconer's stepsister and there was a bloody tank top found in his car, with both his and Kirwan's DNA on it.

The defence has said the bag with the bloody tank top could have been placed in Falconer's car by anybody. His DNA was not found in a camper trailer belonging to Falconer's stepsister — where several items with Kirwan's DNA were found. The defence also pointed out there DNA from an unidentified male was found on the bloody tank top.

Use common sense, jury told

Scaravelli told the jury to consider the reliability of the witnesses. Their memory, inconsistencies and attitude are all factors to consider, he said. The jury members may not agree at first but they must discuss the evidence until they reach an agreement, Scaravelli said.

The jury was told to use common sense and were reminded they can only draw conclusions supported by evidence.

The Crown and defence have agreed Kirwan was murdered — the question is by whom.

"You must decide whether Christopher Falconer is the person who committed that murder," Scaravelli told the jury.

The trial wrapped on Friday when both sides presented their closing arguments.

Crown attorney Bill Gorman urged the jury to "use your common sense." He laid out his theory that Falconer saw Kirwan, overpowered her and confined her in the early hours of Oct. 9, 2011.

But defence lawyer Mike Taylor argued there is reasonable doubt. He suggested the "nicely packaged evidence" found in his client's car is "highly suspicious."

Served 10 years for murder

With the jury in the trial now sequestered, there are no longer any restrictions on reporting Falconer's criminal history.

Falconer pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1998 and was sentenced to life in prison. He and another teenager killed cab driver Robert Leblanc, then went joyriding in his taxi.

The killing happened on Heathbell Road, the same road where Kirwan's body was discovered.

Falconer was released after serving more than 10 years in prison for Leblanc's murder.

Police suspected Falconer early in their investigation of Kirwan's disappearance. That suspicion was enough to have Falconer's parole revoked in February 2012. He was returned to prison until he was formally charged three months later with Kirwan's murder.

With files from The Canadian Press