Justice Scaravelli hands down life sentence for first-degree murder
PICTOU – A 31-year-old Pictou County man has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty in the first-degree murder of Amber Kirwan.
Christopher Alexander Falconer.
The 15-day trial of Christopher Alexander Falconer ended Tuesday around 2 p.m. with a guilty verdict from the six-woman, six-man jury in Pictou Supreme Court.
The jury deliberated for about 7 1/2 hours after being given instruction from Justice Nick Scaravelli Monday. They were sequestered that night at a local hotel and continued their deliberations into Tuesday.
After lunch, sheriffs were notified that a verdict had been reached and both the Kirwan and Falconer families were notified. Kirwan’s mother, Marjorie cried as the verdict was read as did Falconer’s step-mother, Sue Kelly. Falconer remained expressionless, as he had during most of the trial.
“Justice is done,” said Crown attorney Bill Gorman following the verdict. “The jury carefully and thoughtfully deliberated the better part of the day. They got our message and they made our finding.”
He said the amount of time deliberations took showed the thoughtfulness of carefully considering the evidence and that they took the process very seriously.
“All of the evidence pointed at Christopher Alexander Falconer,” Gorman said. “That is what I know.”
He said he spoke with the Kirwan family following the verdict and their relief was evident, but their grief will stay with them forever.
“This is a tragedy they (the Kirwans) will never get past,” Gorman said.
As the Kirwans were leaving the courtroom, they declined comment, but when asked by the media if she was pleased by the verdict, Marjorie answered, “very.”
Once the jury was dismissed, Scaravelli immediately sentenced Falconer to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Falconer’s lawyer, Mike Taylor, said he is sure the jury gave some serious thought to the issues and looked closely at the evidence before them.
“I think they did a good job, a fair job. They had the evidence before them and the decision they made can’t come as a complete surprise to anyone. I wish for Mr. Falconer that it was different, but the evidence was there and I can see them reaching that conclusion.”
He said his client is disappointed with the verdict.
“I think he was thinking there was decent of chance of the acquittal because of the time they were taking,” Taylor said.
He said he is not considering appealing the case at this point but he may rethink that over time. He added that an appeal of a jury decision is “extremely difficult.”
Taylor said the issue of change of venue was looked at in the beginning but it's a “high test” to meet and he doesn't regret not making that application.
“I am still satisfied that it wasn’t going to happen anyway,” he said.
The jurors had more than 45 exhibits to consider as well as testimony from about 35 witness in the trial that began with jury selection on Jan. 6 at the deCoste Entertainment Centre to accommodate the larger-than-usual pool of jurors.
Opening statements by the Crown began the next day with a number of Kirwan's friends taking the stand to testify that they were at a party on Oct. 8 at the victim's home. The friends told the court that some of them caught a taxi to Dooly's in downtown New Glasgow around midnight while Kirwan's boyfriend, Mason Campbell, stayed behind with a few others who were waiting on a second taxi to arrive.
Evidence showed that Kirwan called Campbell around 1:40 a.m. on Oct. 9, and made arrangements for him to pick her up at Big Al's Convenience Store. She left her group of friends and walked in that direction, but when Campbell arrived he said she never showed up.
Campbell testified that when he couldn’t find her, he assumed she had gone with friends. He returned home and waited by the phone, but the next morning he started to worry when he couldn’t locate her. He testified that he contacted his own mother, her parents and police. He told the Crown that he searched for weeks for her afterwards, taking part in a massive volunteer effort that was held in the county to find Kirwan.
Kirwan's remains were located in Heathbell on Nov. 5, in a muddy grave off a logging road. The province's chief medical examiner said she had died from blood loss from multiple stab wounds in her back and neck. A toxicologist testified that she also had large amounts of codeine in her system at the time of death, although the exact amount couldn't be determined.
Following the removal Kirwan's body from Heathbell, investigators turned their attention to the Hardwood Hill Road residence owned by Falconer's stepsister, Alice Meier.
Meier testified that she was away for the weekend of Oct. 8, but her stepbrother texted her on Oct. 9 to say he was at her place the night before and left some things in her camper in her yard. He also texted a friend on the morning of Oct. 9, and said he found some “smoke” the night before that came “in handy for last night’s adventure.”
Forensic evidence from the case included items seized from the camper, Falconer's Chevrolet Impala car as well as the gravesite.
Expert testimony from a DNA forensic specialist revealed that Kirwan and Falconer's DNA were found on a tank top inside a bag in the Impala that the defence labelled as an "evidence package." Under cross-examination, the DNA expert also said there was a third person's unidentified DNA on the tank top. Kirwan's DNA was located in the camper on pieces of duct tape.
Fingerprints of Falconer's were also found on a plastic bag inside the same bag as the tank top inside the car. None of Kirwan's fingerprints or DNA, other than that on the tank top, were found in the accused's car.
In its summations, the Crown theorized at 1:45 a.m. on Oct. 9, Kirwan started walking to Big Al’s and was overcome by Falconer in downtown New Glasgow. He bound her hands with duct tape and forced her into his vehicle after which he took her to the Hardwood Hill camper. Once there, he forced Kirwan to ingest Tylenol 3 pills, cut off Kirwan's clothing and bound her wrists with her own shirt, sweater and towel.
The Crown says Falconer wore a black tank top that night and killed her by stabbing her. However, the stabbing didn't occur in the camper, but between the camper and the burial site in Heathbell.
The defence argued that the Crown had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The text messages read in court were not consistent and Falconer could have sent texts in areas not related to her disappearance. The defence also says he might have worn the tank top in question at another time other than when Kirwan was being stabbed and someone else could have placed the bag with the tank top in Falconer's car since it was unsecured.
The defence also points out that DNA samples from another man were found on the knot in the towel around Kirwan's wrists at the grave site and there was DNA from another person, who was not Kirwan or Falconer, on the tank top.
This is Falconer’s second murder conviction. In 1998, at the age of 15, he and a co-accused pleaded guilty to the murder of a Pictou cab driver, Robert LeBlanc. For $65 and a pack of cigarettes, Falconer strangled LeBlanc with a two-foot long wire he'd hidden in the sleeve of his shirt while the co-accused, then aged 16, attacked the man with a hammer. Despite his age, Falconer was charged as an adult with second-degree murder. He was given a life sentence with no possibility of parole for six years. He was sent to a youth facility until 2000, when he was moved in to an adult prison. He was granted six unescorted releases from prison in 2008 and full parole in May 2011.