The Taylor Van Diest murder trial will likely turn on the question of intent – now that the defence has admitted the man charged in the 18-year-old’s killing caused the injuries that led to her death.
Ms. Van Diest died after she was attacked near a set of railway tracks on Halloween night 2011, sending shock waves through her small northern Okanagan community of Armstrong.
Tuesday – the second day of Matthew Foerster’s first-degree murder trial, in which he has pleaded not guilty – opened with the admission by the defence. The Crown read a document signed by Mr. Foerster’s lawyer in which it was admitted the accused caused Ms. Van Diest’s injuries.
The admission, while surprising, was not completely out of the blue. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Rogers had earlier told the jury it might have to consider whether Mr. Foerster could have formed the intent necessary for murder if he was intoxicated. The judge also said at the time that the jury might have to consider if Mr. Foerster was instead guilty of second-degree murder, or manslaughter.
Justice Rogers told the jury on Tuesday that it could view the admission as a fact that need not be proved, or a given.
The court then heard the testimony of three officers who worked on the case. Much of the day was spent focusing on the crime scene. Its exhibits and the testimony lacked the emotional wallop of Monday, when the trial began with the Crown saying Mr. Foerster had told police he wanted to have sex with Ms. Van Diest and the situation worsened when she tried to fight him off. The Crown said Mr. Foerster had also told police he felt bad about her death.
Constable Matthew Catton showed several crime-scene exhibits to the jury. The Crown requested that Ms. Van Diest’s phone and coat be entered as evidence. The defence requested the same for Ms. Van Diest’s shoes, T-shirt and bra. The exact reasons were not made clear by either party.
Lisa Jean Helps, Mr. Foerster’s lawyer, also requested that a vodka bottle found near Ms. Van Diest’s body be entered as a trial exhibit. The bottle was in RCMP storage for nearly 2 1/2 years and was not tested for fingerprints until the last week. It has not been tested for DNA.
The defence has also admitted that DNA in Mr. Foerster’s vehicle matched that of Ms. Van Diest.
Marie Van Diest, the teen’s mother, said outside court that she was “not overly surprised” by the admission involving Ms. Van Diest’s injuries. She said she was just glad it came about.
When asked how she was feeling two days into the trial, the mother said, “As well as can be expected.”
The trial is being held in B.C. Supreme Court in Kelowna, about an hour south of Armstrong. Dozens of Van Diest family members and friends have packed the courtroom on the first two days.
To say Armstrong is unused to such brushes with violence would be an understatement. After Ms. Van Diest was killed, the mayor of the town of 5,000 said his community had lost its innocence. An RCMP spokesman said Ms. Van Diest’s death was the last homicide the town has seen, and he could not recall the last Armstrong slaying before that.
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