Defence makes closing arguments in Kalen Schlatter trial as courts wind down operations

Click to play video: 'Prosecutors call credibility of man accused of killing Tess Richey into question'
Prosecutors call credibility of man accused of killing Tess Richey into question
WATCH (March 10): Prosecutors spent most of the day questioning accused killer Kalen Schlatter. Caryn Lieberman reports. – Mar 10, 2020

WARNING: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.

TORONTO — Lawyers representing a Toronto man accused of sexually assaulting and strangling a young woman argue the Crown has failed to prove their client was the only one who could have carried out the killing.

Defence lawyers say Kalen Schlatter had no motive to kill Tess Richey, a woman he had met hours earlier, on Nov. 25, 2017.

In her closing arguments this afternoon, lawyer Lydia Riva argued Richey was killed by someone else moments after Schlatter left her in a downtown Toronto alleyway following a consensual sexual encounter.

Schlatter, 23, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Richey, whose body was found in a downtown Toronto stairwell in November 2017.

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He testified last week that he met Richey and her friend Ryley Simard after all three left the same club, and Richey led him to a secluded stairwell to “make out” after her friend went home.

He said Richey did not want to have sex because she was on her period, and they parted ways a short time later.

Richey was reported missing after she failed to return from a night out with a friend, setting off a widespread search effort. Her body was discovered days later by her mother and a family friend.

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Prosecutors allege Schlatter killed her after she refused to have sex with him.

Click to play video: 'Accused in Tess Richey’s murder trial testifies'
Accused in Tess Richey’s murder trial testifies

A forensic pathologist testified the 22-year-old died from strangulation, but noted there were no obvious marks from fingers or a rope on her neck. That raised the possibility she was strangled with something soft, Dr. Kona Williams said.

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Court has also heard Schlatter’s DNA was found on Richey’s pants and bra.

Schlatter’s lawyers, however, have pointed to another man captured on security footage in the area that night as a possible suspect.

The trial is one of two murder trials that have been allowed to proceed even as Ontario’s courts prepare to dramatically cut their operations.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice announced Sunday it would suspend all regular operations, including all new trials, until further notice starting Tuesday to reduce risks related to the novel coronavirus.

Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz said in a notice the court would only hear urgent matters during the suspension, but trials already in progress would receive direction from the presiding judge Monday.

The judge presiding over Schlatter’s trial, Justice Michael Dambrot, asked jurors if they wanted to continue and saying he did not want “anyone to feel they are being asked to put their health at risk.”

Prosecutors are expected to make their closing arguments Tuesday morning. Dambrot is scheduled to give his instructions to the jury Friday, followed by the start of deliberations.

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Civil and family courts are also largely shutting down over COVID-19 concerns, and will only deal with “urgent and emergency” cases, including those having to do with public health, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said.

“This suspension will cause substantial inconvenience to those with matters before the court,” the chief justice said in the notice.

“The decision to engage this emergency process was not made lightly. However, the health and safety of the public, as well as all justice participants is a priority.”

The Ontario Court of Justice, which handles the bulk of criminal cases but does not have jury trials, has also said all matters would be automatically adjourned and rescheduled to a later date, and urged those involved not to attend court.

Other judicial bodies, such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, are also postponing hearings indefinitely.

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