Set to begin on September 14, the double murder trial of Dromore man Leslie Ross is shaping up to last a month, and could involve as many as 200 witnesses. The trial date was set during an arraignment hearing on Friday at Laganside Crown Court, where Ross (67), of Meganlis Park, pleaded not guilty to the alleged murder of two of his former girlfriends, Dromore women Michelle Bickerstaff and Margaret Weise.
The hearing took place in a week that marked the third anniversary of the death of mother-of-four Michelle Bickerstaff (47), whom Ross stands accused of murdering on April 21, 2012; he is accused of killing Margaret Weise (50) in August 2007.
Both women had been in a relationship with Ross at the time of their deaths and relatives of the two packed into the public gallery at courtroom number 13 for the brief hearing.
In March, Judge Peter King found there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a case concerning the alleged murder of a third of Ross’s former partners, Elizabeth McKee, who died in 2002.
Following Friday’s hearing, defence solicitor Conleth Downey said: “At today’s arraignment Mr Ross has pleaded not guilty to the two counts of murder.
“Mr Ross maintains that he is innocent of these charges and welcomes the opportunity to have his name cleared at his trial.”
Remanded in custody, former stonemason Ross has to date spent more than a year in Maghaberry prison.
Flanked by two prison guards, he sat impassively in the dock during the arraignment, where Judge, Mr Justice Weir, was told up to 200 witnesses could be involved in the trial.
Prosecution barrister Ciaran Murphy said the substantial case could last for a month.
Defence barrister Charles McKay said they would be relying on a report produced by Professor Marie Cassidy, state pathologist in the Republic of Ireland.
“That report is anticipated on May 5, ” he said. “An engineer’s report will also be used by the defence.”
Judge Weir told the defendant: “Mr Ross, the plan is your trial will commence in early September. In the meantime I have no doubt your solicitor and defence will be in touch about the detailed arrangements for it.”
A jury is expected to be sworn in at Newry courthouse on September 14 with the double murder trial set to start the following day in Armagh Crown Court.