Former stonemason pleads not guilty to murdering two former girlfriends
A former stonemason has pleaded not guilty to murdering two former girlfriends.
Leslie Ross (67) from Meganlis Park in Dromore, Co Down, was remanded in custody after an arraignment hearing at Belfast Crown Court.
He is accused of killing Michelle Bickerstaff in April 2012 and Margaret Weise in August 2007.
White-haired Ross, who has spent more than a year in Maghaberry high-security prison in Co Antrim, replied "not guilty" when both murder charges were put to him.
Judge Mr Justice Weir was told up to 200 witnesses could be involved in the trial, which is scheduled for Armagh court in September.
Prosecution barrister Ciaran Murphy said the substantial case could last for a month.
He said: "There is still a substantial case.
"There are about 200 witnesses and we anticipate potentially a four-week period for the trial." Mother-of-four Michelle Bickerstaff (47) was found dead in April 2012, while the body of 50-year-old Margaret Weise was discovered in August 2007.
Both women were from Ross's home town of Dromore and had been in a relationship with him at the time of their deaths.
Defence barrister Charles McKay said they would be relying on a report produced by Professor Marie Cassidy, who is the 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, Mr McKay said.
Ross sat impassively in the dock flanked by two prison guards and used a court-supplied hearing aid to follow proceedings.
He was dressed in a dark grey suit with a grey shirt and grey tie.
His goatee beard was neatly trimmed.
Relatives of both women packed into the public gallery of courtroom number 13 for the brief hearing.
Addressing the defendant, Judge Weir said: "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.
Ross was led from the dock handcuffed to a prison officer.
Afterwards, 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."