May 07, 2014 - 3:59 PM
HELPED SON GET NEW IDENTITY, AVOID POLICE
KELOWNA - Stephen Roy Foerster was sentenced to three years in jail for helping his son Matthew Foerster avoid detection by police following the murder of Armstrong teen Taylor Van Diest.
Foerster, 60, pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact Wednesday morning in a Kelowna Supreme Courtroom, right next door to where his son, Matthew Foerster, was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment last month. Stephen knew his son killed Van Diest when he bought him fake ID, including a Social Insurance Number, and counselled him on how avoid police detection.
Supreme Court Justice Peter Rogers felt the sentence was light, given the “heinous crime” committed, but endorsed it because Crown and defence lawyers agreed to the plea bargain.
Foerster had trouble coming up with his $100,000 cash bail so he spent 224 days in custody. Rogers granted him “time and a half” credit for the time he spent in jail, reducing his new time by 336 days.
“Mr. Foerster knew that Matthew was a stone cold killer and that he killed a defenseless young lady,” Rogers said, noting Foerster helped his son hide from police for five months after the murder. “During that time Mr. Foerster must have known that young ladies in Ontario were being put at risk because Matthew was in their community and yet he persisted in concealing Matthew’s presence there.”
WIRETAPS SHOW EXTENT FOERSTER WENT TO HIDE HIS SON
In his sentencing submission, Crown counsel Chris Balison said Foerster assisted his son between the dates of Oct. 31, 2011 and April 3, 2012. His actions are in stark contrast with those of Matthew's half-brother, Mike Hangartner, who helped police coax a confession from him. In a police interrogation, Hangartner encouraged his brother to do the right thing.
A sketch of Matthew Foerster was released to the public some weeks after the murder and Balisin said it garnered at least 30 identifications, including those from his friends and associates. Around November of 2011, police began questioning his family, friends, landlord and former employers about his whereabouts.
“In short, there was certainly no secret in the local area and in the Foerster family... that RCMP were investigating Matthew Foerster,” Balison said.
One family friend who recognized the man in the sketch approached Stephen Foerster. He told her not to call him again and not give out his new telephone number because he suspected it might be bugged.
Stephen Foerster quit his job as a truck driver, telling his boss he was concerned about charges out of Ontario and the risk to the company truck if he was picked up by police. While Foerster has a substantial criminal record involving theft of automobiles and various drug offenses, RCMP determined the Ontario charges Foerster spoke of did not exist.
When the family friend again approached him, Foerster told her “if he’s guilty, he’s guilty, if he’s not he’s not,” adding his son was working up north on the oil rigs.
Foerster bought his son a new identity, including a BCAA card, driver’s license, an old bank card and a SIN number scribbled on a piece of paper from an accquaintance who “needed the money.” He also obtained ‘stuffers’—receipts and other things the real person would carry in their wallet.
Police learned more in three intercepted phone calls between Foerster and his son, who was hiding out in Collingwood, Ontario. The pay-as-you-go cell phones appeared to have only been used between the father and son.
“They talked about Matthew Foerster using his new... identity, they spoke about the police investigation into the murder of Ms. Van Diest, and they spoke about ways for Matthew to avoid detection as well as Mr. Stephen Foerster making arrangements for what he called new papers for Matthew,” Balison said.
The first intercepted call was on March 25, 2012. The Foersters are overheard discussing switching the fake SIN numbers around.
“Mr. Foerster tells Matthew that they, meaning police, came and saw his mother at work again. Stephen Foerster reassured Matthew by saying they obviously, meaning the police, “don’t know where you’re at,’” Balison said.
In the next call on March 26, Matthew Foerster tells his dad he is concerned about the price he’s paying for the new identity, and assures him he’ll pay him back.
In the next intercepted call, on April 3, Matthew Foerster said he had to leave his job at a glass manufacturing plant because the company noticed something wrong with his SIN number. He’d since taken up a painting job.
“Stephen Foerster told Matthew they were warned by someone yesterday that the kid Matthew got the identity from was talking, not to the authorities but he was talking around town,” Balison said. “ He told Matthew the cops were at the house again and that it wasn’t going away.”
Stephen also said he’d found a tracking device on one of the family cars and removed it. He said they should get rid of the cell phones, but then backtracked, saying if the police knew where Matthew was, they’d already be there. Matthew asked for his dad’s house number, and Stephen said, “the last thing you want to do is call that phone at the house, believe me it’s hotter than a firecracker.”
Two days after that last phone call, both men were arrested; Matthew in Collingwood, and Stephen in Cherryville. After he was arrested, Stephen spoke candidly with an undercover cop in police cells. He said he’d take the blame for the murder if he could, but he was in Alberta when it happened. The undercover cop asked him why he didn’t send his son to Mexico. Stephen said he’d thought about it, but decided “jails in Mexico were worse for his son.”
'I COULDN'T LIVE WITH MYSELF'
Prior to Rogers’ decision, Foerster got the opportunity to speak.
“I would like to apologize to the Van Diest family for prolonging the investigation,” he said quietly. “They have suffered more than anybody should.”
Foerster’s defence lawyer Joe Deuling said his client’s life has unravelled in the past couple of years. His marriage “died with these charges” and he was forced to sell his home in Cherryville to pay for his legal matters and get his family out of debt.
“To the extent possible he’s trying to make it right with his family, and the only way he can make it right is to get their finances in order,” Deuling said.
Deuling said Foerster’s actions made the whole situation more difficult for the Van Diest family, for the police and for the community in general, but insisted he could be rehabilitated.
“You’ve got to whack Mr. Foerster across the head for what he’s done and he’s ready for that. But I’m going to be a bit more hopeful that when he finishes his (sentence) he can be a contributing member of society,” Deuling said.
Marie Van Diest, the mother of the teen the accused’s son murdered, hoped the sentence would be closer to five years but said “it’s better than no time.”
“I think they (Stephen and Matthew Foerster) are both cowards and deviants, and neither one of them have a place in society. I’m glad Stephen will be out of society for a while but it makes me shudder that he’ll be released one day soon.”
She had little compassion for Stephen Foerster's decision to protect his son.
"I think if it were me, if I knew my child had done something that horrific, that heinous, I couldn't live with myself knowing they were out there just a ticking time bomb. I couldn't do that as a parent,” said Marie Van Diest.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
—This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. and again at 3:59 p.m. to include full details of the sentence hearing.
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