A WOMAN'S dismembered body had lain so long in a shallow grave that medics had difficulty working out how she died.
Pathologist Ian Wilkinson was even asked if Dublin-born Philomena Dunleavy, 66, might have been alive but unconscious when a blade or saw was used on one of her legs.
The pathologist told the High Court in Edinburgh today that all the signs suggested it was most likely Mrs Dunleavy had been dead when she was beheaded and both her legs were severed at the top of the thigh.
The trial heard that 5ft 4in Mrs Dunleavy suffered from coronary heart disease and there were traces of drugs in her body - including morphine.
But there was also evidence of "blunt force trauma" to her head - although the skull was intact - tiny bones in her neck had been damaged and she had suffered a number of broken ribs.
Dr Wilkinson said the official conclusion was that the cause of death was "unascertained."
The pathologist told defence QC Gordon Jackson: "Because of the condition in which the body was found a lot of our findings have to have caveats.
"Providing a conclusive cause of death was difficult in this case."
On trial is Mrs Dunleavy's son, James - also known as Seamus - who denies murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice by burying the dismembered remains in a secluded woodland clearing on Corstorphine Hill, a nature reserve in Edinburgh.
Dr Wilkinson agreed with Mr Jackson that the injury to the neck bones might have been caused by someone gripping there while sawing off Mrs Dunleavy's head. He also agreed that a broken bone in the shin could have happened during handling of the body.
The lawyer asked if injuries could have been the result of a fall. "That is indeed a possibility," Dr Wilkinson told him.
He also agreed that after her death, someone else could have dismembered the body.
Dr Wilkinson described how he was called in after a cyclist saw Mrs Dunleavy's teeth above the soil of Corstorphine Hill and Mrs Dunleavy's near-naked body was unearthed last June.
Parts of the corpse had been damaged by animals, the trial heard.
Dr Wilkinson examined the remains then four days later carried out a full post mortem.
A number of marks were found which might have been bruises or might have been caused after death.
There was also bleeding round the brain. Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC asked if a blow to the head could have caused the sub-dural haemorrhage. "That would be a possibility," replied the pathologist.
He also agreed that fists alone could have caused the injuries.
Dr Wilkinson also described bleeding at one of the thigh cuts, saying the significance was difficult to interpret.
"Might it support a scenario that Mrs Dunleavy was alive but unconscious at this stage" asked Mr Prentice. "That would be one possible scenario," replied Dr Wilkinson.
Dunleavy, 40, denies battering to death mum Philomena, 66, of Marino, Dublin between April 30 and May 7 last year.
He also denies attempting to defeat the ends of justice by trying to cover up the alleged murder and destroy evidence.
At the time, Dunleavy was living in a flat Edinburgh's Balgreen Road and his mum was visiting him.
The murder charge alleges that it was there that he inflicted "blunt force trauma" by means unknown, compressed his mother's throat and cut off her head and legs with a blade and something like a saw.
A second charge accuses Dunleavy of pretending his mum was unwell and had returned to Ireland.
The charge further alleges that Dunleavy put his mother's torso, severed legs and head into a suitcase and took the dismembered body to Corstorphine Hill where he buried her.
Prosecutors also claim that Dunleavy vacuumed and washed his flat to remove blood stains and torched a bed and mattress.
The trial at the High Court in Edinburgh continues.