WARNING: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.
TORONTO — A Toronto man has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of a young woman whose body was found in an outdoor stairwell days after she went missing.
Jurors convicted Kalen Schlatter on Monday after three days of deliberation in a courthouse that was largely deserted due to precautions surrounding the novel coronavirus.
The conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Schlatter had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the November 2017 killing of Tess Richey.
Testifying in his defence earlier this month, he told the court Richey led him to the stairwell to “make out” hours after they met and he left her there, alive, when they were done.
Prosecutors alleged Schlatter was determined to have sex with Richey, whom he’d met after they left the same club, and lured her into a dark alley when she tried to go meet her Uber.
They argued and then he sexually assaulted her and strangled her when she put up a fight.
During trial, court heard Schlatter’s semen was found on Richey’s pants and his saliva was found on the inside of her bra.
Jurors also viewed surveillance footage that showed Schlatter and Richey walking together towards the alley around 4:15 a.m., then Schlatter emerging alone roughly 45 minutes later.
Richey was never seen leaving the alley, which is between two buildings and fenced off at the back. Her body was found in the stairwell days later by her mother and a family friend.
In her closing arguments last week, prosecutor Bev Richards argued Richey showed no interest in Schlatter, pointing to the lack of physical contact between them over dozens of security videos from that night.
Richards called Schlatter’s account “pure fantasy,” arguing Richey wanted to go home, not make out in a concrete stairwell.
No one will ever know why Richey agreed to head down the alley with Schlatter, but it’s possible he offered to walk her to her ride, Richards said.
Court also heard testimony from Schlatter’s former cellmate, a career criminal turned jailhouse informant, and two undercover officers who said Schlatter confided in them.
The informant, who can only be identified as E.S., told jurors Schlatter confessed to strangling Richey with a scarf after she refused to have sex with him. He also told the court Schlatter showed no remorse and only felt sorry for himself.
The undercover officers, meanwhile, said Schlatter described making out with Richey and ejaculating in his pants but not having sex because she was on her period. They said Schlatter told them Richey was alive when he left her.
The defence, meanwhile, argued Schlatter was an “easy target” for investigators because he was the last person seen with Richey, but insisted he was innocent.
Defence lawyer Lydia Riva said in her closing submissions that the Crown had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that her client was the only one who had the opportunity to kill Richey.
She pointed to another man seen in the area that night as a potential alternate suspect, suggesting he jumped at least one tall fence to get into the alley in the moments after Schlatter left.
Riva also urged jurors to disregard E.S.’s testimony, arguing the informant was testifying in an effort to get special consideration from the justice system. She suggested that what E.S. called a confession was in fact her client recounting information and accusations put to him by detectives.
The defence lawyer also argued the undercover officers took some of Schlatter’s comments out of context, particularly the ones where he bragged about his sexual conquests. Riva noted, however, that Schlatter did not tell the pair he had killed Richey.