March 26, 2014 - 4:31 PM
KELOWNA - Taylor Van Diest was strangled before she died of blunt force trauma to her head, a pathologist testified today in Kelowna Supreme Court.
Dr. John Stefanelli performed the autopsy on 18-year-old Van Diest’s battered body three days after she was attacked while walking to meet friends on Halloween night 2011. He said six blows tore through Van Diest’s scalp and fractured her skull. Because the lacerations were all in the same approximate area, he said they were likely inflicted by someone standing in the same location, repeatedly striking her head.
He couldn’t say what she was hit with—though he suspected something fairly heavy. He was certain one or a combination of the blows killed her. The blows themselves, or the swelling that ensued caused severe bleeding in her brain. Stefanelli said it’s unlikely she could have survived such an injury.
Crown lawyer Iain Currie said the most disturbing images were not included in the photo booklet handed out to the jury of five women and seven men. Matthew Foerster, 28, of Cherryville, is charged with first degree murder. On Tuesday, his lawyer admitted he killed her, that his DNA was found under her fingernails, and that her DNA was found in his truck. To prove first degree murder, the Crown must show his actions were planned and deliberate, or that he killed her while sexually assaulting her.
The doctor believes Van Diest was still conscious while she was being strangled. Two red lines suggest a thin cord or rope was wrapped tightly around her neck. There were no signs of manual strangulation—no hand or fingerprint bruises on her neck. Stefanelli said the cord may have been wrapped around twice, or shifted at some point to create the two distinct lines. Below the marks were faint scratches.
“In my opinion Miss Van Diest was trying to pull these (cords) away with her own fingers and caused these scratches to her neck,” Stefanelli said.
More signs of defensive injuries were found on her hands—bruises, scrapes, a broken pinkie finger where she may have tried to protect herself from the object being used to strike her. Due to bruising around her neck, Stefanelli suspected significant pressure was applied during strangulation. Depending on how great the pressure, and how long it was applied, it’s possible for someone to survive strangulation, he said.
Other injuries included a laceration on her right eyelid, facial bruising and hemorrhaging in her eyeball. Hemorrhaging in the eye could have been the result of being hit, or from being strangled. Stefanelli attributed a series of red marks on her lips to her own teeth being crushed against them.
Stefanelli said it’s possible Van Diest sustained a blow to the head from falling on an object, but doubted six individual scalp lacerations would occur this way.
Details of her wounds are described in court in a clinical and graphic description. Hearing them had a clear impact on Van Diest's family and friends. Mother Marie Van Diest has spoken with reporters every day so far at the trial, but declined an interview following Wednesday morning’s painful proceedings.
In cross examination, Foerster’s defense lawyer Lisa Jean Helps asked Stefanelli if more than one weapon might have been used to cause the injuries, and he agreed there might have been. Helps showed the doctor several court exhibits, including Van Diest’s white lace bra, a shoe and a metal pipe found at the crime scene.
Stefanelli said the bra straps were consistent with the size of the red strangulation marks on Van Diest’s neck, but the laces of the shoe were not. Helps questioned whether Van Diest’s head injuries might have been caused by a tumble onto the pipe. Stefanelli said one of the lacerations could have been caused this way, but likely not all six. He also said that if Van Diest had no head injuries, he would be confident in saying the ligature strangulation was the cause of death.
This afternoon, the Crown called an Armstrong resident who lives across from Armstrong Elementary School, near the crime scene. Delphine Burylo was visibly nervous and emotional, choking on her words and holding a tissue while she testified. She said she heard two screams around 6 p.m. the night in question. Because it was Halloween night she disregarded the woman's screams.
The next witness was a custodian from Armstrong Elementary School. Natasha Bellows walked over to Burylo’s house on her break for a visit and to get some Halloween candy. She heard only a single, high-pitched scream, “like somebody was trying to scare you really bad.” She said Burylo noticed the scream as well. This was sometime between 5:58 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. Bellows said.
The Crown is expected to play a video of a police interview on Thursday in which Foerster allegedly admits to killing Van Diest and feeling remorseful for it.
The Crown filed three more admissions Wednesday signed and endorsed by the defense. The first explained that Van Diest departed home at approximately 5:45 p.m. Oct. 31, 2011 wearing a Halloween costume pictured in a photo entered as a court exhibit. The next admission detailed Foerster’s cell phone records. Service provider Rogers provided a copy of the calls and text messages on the phone, as well as cell towers that provided the signal. Records show Foerster used the phone Oct. 31, 2011 during the day in Lumby, up until 3:06 p.m. At 3:19 p.m., the cell phone accessed service from a tower in Vernon, and between 3:45 p.m. and 4:46 p.m. a tower in Armstrong. Between 5:28 p.m. and 5:43 p.m. the phone accessed a cell tower in Enderby. No activity shows up again until 8:35 p.m. in Lumby.
The third admission detailed the activity on Van Diest’s cell phone. Her last text message “being crepped” was sent at 6:01 p.m. and the message she composed but never sent—”Holly”—was saved to drafts at 6:02 p.m.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230.
Foerster admits to killing Armstrong teen - Infotel News
—This story was edited at 4:21 p.m. Mar. 26 to include information from the afternoon court session, including witness testimony from Natasha Bellows and Delphine Burylo, and three admissions filed by the Crown.
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