Jurors who had to decide whether Matthew Foerster was guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Okanagan teenager Taylor Van Diest never heard that he faced allegations of sexual assault and confinement involving a Kelowna woman.
Mr. Foerster, 28, was convicted last weekend in Kelowna for first-degree murder. But a publication ban during the trial prevented jurors from learning that DNA collected from Ms. Van Diest allowed police to link Mr. Foerster to the unsolved 2005 sexual assault.
RCMP announced the link when Mr. Foerster was charged in 2012. Mr. Foerster was also charged in a 2004 home invasion in the Okanagan community of Cherryville.
Mr. Foerster has yet to stand trial on any of those charges, but with his conviction of the first-degree murder of Ms. Van Diest, 18, he has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of applying for parole for 25 years.
Marie Van Diest – Taylor’s mother – was exasperated in an interview about the legal reality that allegations against Mr. Foerster were concealed during his murder trial.
“He certainly enters the courtroom looking like a choirboy,” she said, reflecting on the trial. “Unfortunately that’s the way the law works, but, to me, it just shows that the accused has the rights and the victims do not.”
While Mr. Foerster pleaded not guilty in the murder of Ms. Van Diest, he admitted he’d attacked the teenager as she was walking in her northern Okanagan community of Armstrong, at about 6 p.m., to a friend’s house dressed as a zombie for Halloween festivities.
Mr. Foerster did not testify and his lawyer, Lisa Jean Helps, did not call any witnesses before wrapping up her case. She told the jury her client’s actions amounted to manslaughter, not first-degree murder.
“Of course, he is devastated and overwhelmed by the verdict because my client never intended to kill Taylor Van Diest,” Ms. Helps said after the verdict.
“He admitted his responsibility, feels sincere remorse and is simply devastated by the entire situation, including how Ms. Van Diest’s family must feel.”
The trial heard that witnesses found Taylor Van Diest barely alive at about 8:30 p.m. Jurors heard evidence that she was lying face down near the railway tracks, her head resting on a steel pipe.
Ms. Van Diest had suffered six blows to the head, a pathologist testified, and one of them fractured her skull and caused a severe brain injury.