A pensioner accused of murdering a woman and a boy in 1976 has been assessed by a doctor to see if he can stand trial.
William MacDowell, 79, is accused of killing Renee MacRae and three-year-old Andrew MacRae before allegedly dumping their bodies.
The crimes are said to have occurred on the Dalmagarry lay-by at the A9 trunk road – 11 miles from Inverness – and elsewhere on November 12 1976.
MacDowell was not present for the hearing at the High Court in Paisley on Friday after it was explained that he was suffering from three illnesses.
His QC added it is not known if the OAP will be fit to stand trial.
Murray Macara stated that MacDowell was medically assessed on Thursday and a report on his health is being prepared meantime.
The two murder charges claim MacDowell assaulted 36-year-old Renee – known on court papers as Christina – and Andrew “by means unknown” causing both injury resulting in their death.
Prosecutors allege he had previously shown “malice and ill will” towards the mother and son, who lived in Inverness at the time.
MacDowell, now of Penrith, Cumbria, faces a separate charge of then attempting to defeat the ends of justice.
This includes a claim MacDowell – then aged 35 – did dispose of the bodies and personal effects of the pair again by unknown means.
It is also said he torched a BMW motor, got rid of a boot hatch from a Volvo car and dumped a pushchair.
This was allegedly all done to conceal the murders in a bid to avoid arrest and prosecution.
Denies murder charge
Mr Macara pled not guilty on Friday. The court heard he was recently examined by a retired medical consultant and the defence are waiting on a report to see if he will be fit for trial.
Mr Macara told the hearing: “The consultant explained there are three significant problems which affect his health.
“Cardiac failure, liver failure and lymphoma – these issues are recorded.
“The question is whether a trial can take place that accommodate the needs he has.
“The consultant reports that the issues that might affect the trial process can be addressed.
“As a consequence of his cardiac failure, he becomes breathless after walking as little as 20 yards.
“He requires to go to the toilet frequently day and night.
He said: “As he has to get up, he sleeps very badly and has a habit of falling asleep during the daytime.
“If this were the only problem, this could be addressed in the trial.
“The consultant is aware of the serious nature of the charges he faces.”
Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC stated that MacDowell’s health matters would need to be addressed before fixing a trial.
He said: “Once the Crown are able to see the report and consider its terms, consideration will have to be given to what accommodation can be given to make the trial fair.
“If he is assessed as not fit, then the Crown will have to consider this with your lordship.”
Judge Lord Armstrong stated that he will deal with the matters “stage by stage.”
He added: “The most pressing issue is the fitness of William MacDowell and the appropriate course is to gather information before any decision is made in regards to other matters.”
Lord Armstrong adjourned the case until a further hearing next month.
MacDowell’s attendance will again be excused.