Forensic pathologist who examined Tess Richey's body testifies at murder trial

TORONTO - A young woman whose body was found in a stairwell in Toronto's gay village had injuries indicating she died from neck compression, a forensic pathologist testified Wednesday.

Dr. Kona Williams, who examined Tess Richey's body, told a Toronto court the 22-year-old had a "sharp line of demarcation" on her neck from petechial hemorrhages — marks caused by blood vessels breaking open.

There was also a faint bruise on the front of her neck that suggested her skin may have been pinched by clothing, as well as bleeding of the tissues near her voice box, Williams said.

There were no obvious marks from a rope or fingerprints, however, which raised the possibility that "whatever was applied to her neck was soft in nature," the forensic pathologist said.

Asked whether Richey could have been strangled with a scarf or tie, Williams said it couldn't be ruled out, nor could the possibility of her being held in a chokehold or pinned against a surface with an arm.

"They're all equally plausible," she said, but noted that whatever it was, it cut off the blood supply to Richey's brain and prevented her from breathing.

Williams took the stand Wednesday at the trial of Kalen Schlatter, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Richey's death.

The Crown alleges Schlatter sexually assaulted and strangled Richey in the hours after they met in November 2017.

Richey was reported missing after a night out with a friend, and her body was discovered days later by her mother and a family friend.

Williams told the court that Richey's death was initially investigated as accidental, possibly due to a fall down the stairs or exposure to the elements.

While bruises on Richey's lower legs could have been caused by falling, no other injuries suggest she had fallen repeatedly, the forensic pathologist said.

There was an abrasion on the left side of Richey's forehead that Williams said could be the result of multiple or overlapping impacts.

Richey also had bruises on the backs of her wrists and on the back of her right hand, which raised the possibility that she had been restrained, Williams said.

"It made me wonder if she'd been pressed down against something firm or if somebody had grabbed her," she said, noting it wasn't clear whether or not there was a struggle involved.

Under cross-examination by the defence, Williams said it wasn't clear whether Richey's leg injuries were caused by an assault or an accidental fall.

She also said it wasn't possible to pinpoint an exact time of death because the cold weather would have delayed decomposition as well as the development of rigor mortis and its eventual disappearance.

Jurors also viewed security video from inside and outside the Toronto club where Richey and her friend Ryley Simard went that night. Schlatter was also there separately.

Shortly after 2 a.m., Schlatter can be seen leaving the club and lingering nearby. Minutes later, Simard comes out the same exit and walks north towards a second exit.

Richey is seen coming out of that second exit shortly afterwards and clutching the railing as she walks down the stairs.

The two women stay by the exit and appear to be talking to people and smoking. Eventually, Schlatter walks past them and he and Simard have a brief interaction.

When the two women walk away from the club, Schlatter appears to look after them. Later, he walks in the same direction.

Crown attorney Beverley Richards also said security footage, expected to be played in court later in the trial, will show Schlatter and Richey walking towards the stairwell in the alley together on the night she died.

Richards has said the video will then show Schlatter leaving alone 45 minutes later.

Prosecutors have said Schlatter's DNA was found on Richey's pants and bra, and they allege he killed her after she rejected his advances.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.

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