Montrose murder trial: Pathologists give evidence

Market Street was cordoned off last year while police officers carried out investigations
Market Street was cordoned off last year while police officers carried out investigations

A mother-of-three survived for about an hour after being hit on the head, a neuro-pathologist told a murder trial.

Dr William Stewart, who examined alleged murder victim Kimberley MacKenzie’s brain, said there was bruising and bleeding to the right hand side and also signs of brain swelling.

Dr Stewart was giving evidence yesterday (Tuesday) at the trial of Steven Jackson, 40, and Michelle Higgins, 29, who denied murdering Kimberley, 37, in Montrose last year and then cutting up her body.

Parts of Kimberley’s body were found in four bins in Montrose and the remaining parts were in a rucksack and a suitcase found in a shower cubicle at 73 William Phillips Drive, Montrose.

The High Court in Glasgow has heard from pathologists that Kimberley was struck over the right side of her head 10 or 11 times with a weapon like a claw hammer and would have become unconscious as the blows rained down on her.

Dr Stewart told the jury that he examined the brain on December 10, last year.

Prosecutor Ashley Edwards QC asked: “What did you find when you examined Kimberley MacKenzie’s brain,” and Dr Stewart said: “Some mild bruising on the right hand wide round which was bleeding. There was a segment of bone which looked like it had been embedded on impact.

“On the left hand side there was similar bruising.”

The court was told that Dr Stewart examined sections of the brain to determine how long Kimberley had survived after the initial blow to her head.

Dr Stewart was asked by Ms Edwards: “What was the likely survival time between injury and death,” and he replied: “We use experience and data to produce a timeline. The textbooks would suggest changes would take three to four hours, however my conservative estimate would be an hour or slightly less than an hour.”

He then said that with medical intervention the head injury was “potentially survivable”.

Defence QC Donald Findlay, representing Jackson, suggested that changes in the brain caused by decay could account for his findings and suggested that Kimberley died shortly after being injured.

Dr Stewart replied: “This is by no means a brain which masked the changes.”

Mark Stewart QC, defending Higgins, said: “The totality of your experience leads you to say the survival time at a conservative estimate was one hour,” and Dr Stewart replied: “That’s right.”

The court also heard that a text was sent from murder accused Steven Jackson’s phone the day after Kimberley MacKenzie died which read “I need help got some bits chopped offxx”

The text was sent at 3.10pm on October 28 last year to one of two phones belonging to his co-accused Michelle Higgins.

The jury has been told that the prosecution and defence have agreed that Kimberley died on October 27, 2015, at Jackson’s home at 40A Market Street, Montrose.

The court was told by DC Stewart Woodhouse, of the cyber crime unit, that a text was sent in return from Higgins’ phone and it read: “mink lol.”

DC Woodhouse told the court that another text was sent from Jackson’s phone to Higgins’ phone at 3.22pm which read: “Its gone out o house....come backx”

Earlier the jury heard that a fingerprint of Higgins was found on the inner black bin bag liner in which Kimberley’s head was wrapped.

The High Court in Glasgow heard last Friday that 10 or 11 blows from a weapon like a hammer had smashed into Kimberley’s head with such force that it cracked into pieces.

Pathologist Dr Marjorie Turner told prosecutor Ashley Edwards: “The right side of the skull was fractured in lots of pieces, broken into bits, almost like when you hit the top of an egg and the shell cracks.”

The jury was shown photographs of the injuries and judge Lady Rae warned them they could find these distressing.

Dr Turner said that as well as the skull injuries Kimberley had a black eye and fractures to her eye socket, cheekbone and lower jaw.

The court also heard she was stabbed more than two dozen times.

The pathologist was shown a knife with a bent blade and a Skean Dhu seized by police from Jackson’s house at 40A Market Street, Montrose, and said either weapon could have caused the injuries.

She revealed that all the dismemberment of Kimberley’s body was carried out after she was dead.

The body parts were recovered from four bins and from a rucksack and suitcase in a shower cubicle at 73 William Phillips Drive, Montrose.

She died on October 27, 2015, and her remains were found days later.

Defence QC Donald Findlay, representing Jackson, said: “This has been a frenzied attack on this woman,” and Dr Turner replied: “I don’t like the word frenzied. I would say sustained.”

Mark Stewart QC, representing Higgins, asked Dr Turner: “Would it be correct to say that a hammer attack to the head does not explain the totality of the injuries, “ and she replied: “That’s correct.”

Higgins had the keys to a flat where a rucksack and a suitcase containing the head and other body parts of mother-of-three Kimberley MacKenzie were allegedly found, the High Court heard last Wednesday.

David Melville, 36, from Montrose, was giving evidence at the trial of Steven Jackson, 40, and Michelle Higgins, 29, who deny murdering 37-year-old Kimberley in October 2015 and dismembering her body.

Mr Melville said he was in a relationship with Higgins after she left Jackson on November 1, 2015.

He told prosecutor Ashley Edwards QC that a friend, John Cook, had given him keys to his flat at 73 William Phillips Drive, Montrose.

Ms Edwards then asked: “Did you give them to someone else,” and Mr Melville replied: “Yes Michelle.”

It is alleged that Kimberley’s head and other body parts were put in a rucksack and suitcase and concealed in a shower cubicle at 73 William Phillips Drive.

Mr Melville told the court that on November 1, 2015, Higgins asked him to come to Market Street, Montrose, where she lived with Jackson and help her move out while he was in police custody.

The court heard that she texted him: “That’s me packed everything up,” and when he arrived all her luggage was packed ready to go.

He said he helped her to get a taxi and she set off in it on her own and arrived at his house in Union Street, Montrose, 20 to 40 minutes later.

Higgins’ defence QC Mark Stewart asked Mr Melville: “Prior to that weekend had you had a conversation with Michelle Higgins which led to you understanding she wanted to leave Mr Jackson for three weeks prior to that weekend,” and he replied: “Yes, she said more than once she wanted to get away from him.”

Mr Stewart then asked Mr Melville, who said he had known Higgins for about six or seven months by October 2015: “In the time you had known Michelle Higgins have you ever seen her behave in a way that was violent.”

Mr Melville replied: “No.”

He was then asked what he thought she would do if she encountered violence and he said: “Curl up into a ball. She would never want to face that.”

The court heard that Mr Melville and Higgins were arrested in Aberdeen on October 6, 2015.

He said they had gone to buy heroin which was cheaper than in Montrose.

Jackson and Higgins are accused of murdering Kimberley by repeatedly striking her on the head, neck and body with a hammer or similar instrument and striking her with a knife at 40a Market Street, Montrose, on October 27, last year.

They are also accused of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by dismembering her body using a saw, knives and a screwdriver and wrapping parts of her body in bin liners and bags and hiding them in bins at 40 Market Street, Patons Lane, Chapel Street and 73 William Phillips Drive, all Montrose, between October 27 and November 4, 2015.

Both deny the charges against them.

The trial continues.