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The mistress of a former Toronto policeman accused of murdering her could have still been alive when she was entombed in a plastic garbage container that was then concealed behind a false wall in his house, a jury was told yesterday.

Accompanied by sometimes horrifying pictures of the decomposed remains of Linda Mariani, the testimony came from seasoned pathologist Dr. David Chiasson, the final prosecution witness in the first-degree-murder trial of Richard Wills.

Mr. Wills, a 50-year-old father of three and a onetime traffic cop in Toronto's 14 Division, admits stuffing the body of Ms. Mariani, his long-time companion, into a 225-litre bin and walling it up in the basement of his Richmond Hill home.

But he insists she died accidentally in a fall, and that it was out of a sense of panic that he hid her body. He said he was worried that her relatives would bury her in the family plot and not at his Wasaga Beach cottage property, where the couple had planned to be interred together under a secret lovers' pact.

Still unclear is how Mr. Wills will explain the aluminum Louisville Slugger baseball bat and the skipping rope wrapped three times around Ms. Mariani's neck that were found in the tightly sealed garbage pail along with other items when he led York Regional Police detectives to her body four months after she vanished in February, 2002.

He and defence lawyer Raj Napal will give the jury their version of events when they begin presenting their case next week, with Mr. Wills expected to take the witness box, a rare move for a defendant in a murder case.

Because Ms. Mariani's body was so badly decomposed by the time of the autopsy, there is no way to provide a definitive cause of death, Dr. Chiasson told lead prosecutor Harold Dale yesterday.

Scrutiny revealed two eight-centimetre fractures at the back of her skull - injuries that would have required "a considerable amount of force," the pathologist testified.

But he was unable to state whether a weapon was used.

The broken, red-handled skipping rope found encircling Ms. Mariani's neck may also have contributed to her demise, Dr. Chiasson said. And so, too, perhaps, he testified, was the act of shoving her headfirst into the container, which may have resulted in "positional asphyxia."

A veteran of about 3,000 autopsies, Dr. Chiasson said all three traumas could have played a part in the death of Ms. Mariani, a 40-year-old mother whose widower and brother were both in court yesterday.

Shackled in the glass-walled prisoner's box under the watchful eye of two police officers, Mr. Wills as usual paid close attention to the proceedings, taking notes and scribbling messages for Mr. Napal.

Notwithstanding the gruesome nature of the evidence - Dr. Chiasson told the trial that when he removed the lid from the bin, the contents were half liquid and emanated a "marked odour of decomposition" - at another point in the proceedings, Mr. Wills swung around and beamed a big grin to the handful of spectators and reporters seated behind him in the courtroom.