HEATHBELL – For the second time in 15 years, Scott Falconer Sr. watched his grandson sentenced to life for murder.
In October 1998, he sat quietly in the back of a small New Glasgow courtroom and listened to 15-year-old Christopher Alexander Falconer, with his head bowed, admit his guilt in the second-degree murder of Pictou taxi driver Robert LeBlanc.
That brutal killing devastated the county and the Falconer family accepted Chris’s involvement. They told him he would have to pay the price for what he did.
Fifteen years later, Scott Sr. sits in a courtroom again, this time listening to a jury tell everyone Chris brutally murdered Amber Kirwan, but this time he’s not so sure.
"I told myself that I was going to be open minded and act like a juror to hear all of the evidence in this trial. I wanted the truth," he said in an interview at his son Scotty’s Heathbell Road home a few days after the verdict in Pictou Supreme Court. "I was going to make my verdict and see if it was going to be same as the jury. "
As fate would have it, Scott never heard the jury say the words ‘guilty.’ He was called to the courthouse, but a car accident at the Pictou rotary held him up in traffic. When he arrived, he was bombarded by media wanting comment, to which he politely replied, “I need to find out what the verdict was first.”
"I went over to Scotty and he said, 'guilty, first degree murder.' I said, ‘it can't be.'"
The 77-year-old said he left the courthouse that day with a heavy heart. The family was shocked by the verdict because after listening to all of the evidence, they felt there wasn’t enough to convict Chris without reasonable doubt.
After reading comments in the media about the final days of the trial, Scott said he couldn’t keep silent anymore.
At Scotty’s kitchen table, he sits down with a white pad in front of him. He has some notes jotted down that will help him make his points during the interview, but before he begins, he wants to make one thing perfectly clear – he is not speaking out to cause any more pain for the Kirwan family.
“We aren’t disputing what happened to her was terrible, but we need answers too,” he said.
Both Scott and Scotty say the trial left them with more questions than anything else. They say they can’t connect the dots to Chris and he isn’t any help in filling in the blanks. They speak to him each night on phone and all he says is he told the truth. He tells them he didn’t know Kirwan or cause her death.
From the start of the entire investigation in 2011, the Falconers say they feel police focused on one person only and failed to see if anyone else could have committed such a horrific crime.
Scotty said when the investigation moved to Heathbell in mid-October, he didn't think Chris was involved in it at all, but as more police came around his home, the more worried he became for his son.
"When I told Chris they were out here looking, he said, 'oh really?'” Scotty said. "The second time I told him they thought the body was here, he said, 'oh wow, she was out there?’ I never thought Chris was ever involved in this until the police started coming around and asking questions. It was after that I started to worry for him because of his past.”
Scott said police were at his home four times for interviews and told him shortly after her remains were found off a logging road in Heathbell in November 2011 that they were 100 per cent certain Chris murdered Kirwan.
"I said to them, 'You don't think he is being set up?' They said, not a chance. We know he did it. We just want to understand why. We want to know if you could help us understand it."
Scott said he took his time to think about it, but couldn't come up with a motive for them.
"I went over everything I could think of," he said. "I said, ‘I know that if Chris got into a fight with a man, he could hurt him real bad because he is strong, but I said he would never lift a hand to a girl. He didn't do it.’"
He said, based on what he heard during the trial, he doesn’t buy into the Crown's theory that Chris grabbed Kirwan in downtown New Glasgow, bound her hands with duct tape, drove to Heathbell and later killed her.
At least 45 exhibits were put into evidence and close to 35 witnesses were called during the three-week trial. Evidence from a tank top found inside a bag in the back of Falconer’s car had DNA on it from Falconer, Kirwan and an unknown third person. For the Falconers, the unknown DNA has raised questions in the case.
He also questions why some witnesses at the preliminary inquiry last February weren't called to testify at the trial.
Scott said he knew his grandson was getting hate texts from people from the time he was released on parole.
"There are people that would send him texts and tell him they had a spot in the woods picked out for him," he said.
Both men said pressure was on Chris as well as his family and friends to say anything that might help their case.
Scotty said Chris would tell him that police would say to him they knew he did it so why didn’t he confess.
“That's what he was bombarded with from the time he went to Burnside on a parole violation.”
Scotty said when his son killed LeBlanc in 1998, he told him straight out that he would have to pay for his crime, but this time he told his son not to plead guilty if he was innocent.
"I told him that we were fine. We could handle the stress. It’s fine to sit in prison if you did the crime, but if you didn't do it, you don't plead guilty," said Scotty.
The Falconers said Chris's past came back to haunt him and they don't make any excuses for what he did, but when he was released on parole in 2011, they had some hope that he would be able to get on with life.
Scott said Chris fished with him and he farmed with Scotty. He also worked as a labourer for a carpentry company until he got laid off in the summer. He told his father he had another line on a job before he was picked up by police again on the parole violation in November 2011.
In one way, Scotty said keeping Chris's past out of the trial hurt him because people don't understand how living in an institution for 15 years at a young age affected how he acted while out on parole and in court.
He said his son was close to 30 years old when he was released, but believes he had the mentality of an 18-year-old, wanting to spend time with women and drive around in his car. When he was in court, people criticized him for being "expressionless," but when you grow up in prison, he said you learn quickly to not show any emotion.
"We wanted a change of venue, but his lawyer said it would be difficult to get. Anyone living here knew his history," said Scotty. "We want it looked at again by someone impartial."
Scott said it was evident emotions in the trial were high from the start when the jury sent a note to Justice Nick Scaravelli concerned that the Kirwans would be upset if they accidentally viewed autopsy photos.
"Why would Chris take her, if he did it, out to his sister's, who he loved, and mess up her life? Why take the body and bury it in his father's back yard? There are other places. The cellphone records say he was in New Glasgow and then Pictou that night, but so were a lot of other people."
The Falconers say they are at a loss now about what to do next. They don't know if they can appeal or even afford a lawyer to push for one.
"There is nothing more we can do," said Scott. "The only thing that will make the change now is if someone else involved trips up and says something wrong or their DNA comes into the system and the police follow up."
According to a follow-up with the police, the Kirwan investigation is closed.
Dalhousie law professor Rob Currie, speaking in general terms, said an appeal of any verdict can only be made if the judge made an error in how he or she instructed the jury about the law, if the judge made an error in admitting evidence or if the jury made a decision that was completely inconsistent with the evidence. He said the defence has to consider whether there are any such errors and whether they’re significant enough to have affected the outcome of the trial.
Expression of deepest sympathy
Before this interview began, Scott Falconer Sr. had something he wanted to get off his chest. As he glanced down at his paper, his hands shook a little and in a quiet voice he stumbled over these words….
"To Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan, you have my deepest, heartfelt sympathy. I have a daughter and the thought of that happening to her would be devastating. I have nine granddaughters and nine grandsons and I love them all dearly. Given my comments here, I do not want to hurt you in any way. I just want the truth.”
RCMP arrest Fraser Wilson Kennedy, 16, of Meadowville and Christopher Alexander Falconer, 15, of Heathbell and charge them with the murder of Robert Gerald LeBlanc.
May 12, 1998
A family court judge transfers Falconer's case to adult court. He is given a life sentence with no possibility of parole for six years.
June 6, 2008
After serving 13 years he is released on full parole.
“The board believes that you would not present an undue risk under full parole,” reads a, decision sheet.
Chris Falconer is arrested charged with unauthorized possession of a restricted firearm and possession of drugs.
Feb. 16, 2012
Falconer’s parole is revoked.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
• Falconer is arrested and charged with Kirwan's kidnapping and murder
Monday Feb. 11, 2013
Jan. 6, 2014
• Falconer goes to trial on charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder.
Jan. 28, 2014