Warning: Article contains graphic testimony

PICTOU, N.S. -- Amber Kirwan mounted a vigorous defence against her assailant before she bled to death after being stabbed at least 10 times, Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner testified Monday at the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Alexander Falconer.

Dr. Matthew Bowes said 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 told the jury in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Pictou.

Bowes 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.

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.

Removing her body proved difficult, Bowes said, because the soil was muddy and it was a cold day. He said he was fairly certain it was Kirwan when he was able to identify two tattoos -- a butterfly and a star.

Kirwan was found face down and her wrists had been bound with material that looked liked pieces of clothing, Bowes testified.

He said it was impossible to determine how long her body was there, although it had to have been there "for some time" because of the extent of decomposition.

Blood and urine tests taken from Kirwan's body indicated high levels of codeine which was also metabolized into trace levels of morphine, he added.

"These things administered with alcohol are a powerful sedative," he said.

He said although she was drugged, he believes Kirwan was able to make a conscious effort to ward off her attack because of the defensive wounds on her hands.

Under cross-examination, Bowes was asked whether it was possible to pin down the approximate time of death.

"It's almost pointless for me to give you a number because doing so would be speculative," Bowes told defence lawyer Mike Taylor.

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