New evidence led police to upgrade charge in Tess Richey case, investigator says
Published Thursday, March 22, 2018 12:06PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, March 22, 2018 7:01PM EDT
A Toronto man accused in the death of Tess Richey appeared in court this morning but was not formally arraigned on an upgraded charge of first-degree murder.
Kalen Schlatter, 21, was initially charged with second-degree murder in Richey’s death but on Wednesday police announced that the charge would be upgraded to first-degree murder.
Detectives say information from the Church and Wellesley community along with newly uncovered forensic evidence and surveillance footage gave them the means to upgrade the charge.
“New evidence presented itself to us and I want to acknowledge the community for that. I want to thank them for that, for coming forward,” Toronto police Det. Ted Lioumanis told reporters following the Schlatter’s brief court appearance.
“I’m not going to get into what it was or what took us to it, but we’re very confident it’s taken us there.”
Richey, 22, was reported missing on Nov. 25, 2017 when she never returned home after a night out with a friend at a bar in the in the city’s Church-Wellesley neighbourhood.
Four days later, her mother discovered her body in an outdoor stairwell of a building under construction in the area of Church and Dundonald streets – not far from where she was last seen.
Police initially said Richey’s death was not considered suspicious; however, the homicide unit later took over the case after an autopsy revealed that she died of neck compression.
Schlatter was then arrested on the night of Feb. 4, months after police released surveillance camera images of the man that Richey was last seen with.
Police believe Schlatter and Richey met for the first time on the night of her death. They previously indicated that it her murder was likely a crime of opportunity.
Lioumanis said the accused is not cooperating with investigators.
On Thursday, Schlatter appeared in court at College Park and was remanded into custody until his next appearance via video on April 23. Schlatter was not formally arraigned on the upgraded charge during the brief appearance.
Former Toronto police homicide detective and CP24 crime specialist Steve Ryan says there are a number of ways a case can quality for a first-degree murder charge.
“You could confine somebody and kill them – that’s first-degree murder. If you have planning and deliberation, doesn’t have to be a long and drawn out plan, that’s first-degree murder as well,” he said. “And sexual assault with a homicide is also first-degree murder.”
When asked whether Richey’s family members were happy with the upgraded charge, Liounais said “absolutely.”
“But considering what they’ve gone through and what they’re going through, will they ever come to grips on what happened?” he said, pausing to shrug. “It’s a horrible situation for them.”
Richey’s mother left the courthouse in tears after the brief proceedings. Her sister, Rachel Richey, commended police for their work on the case Wednesday after the charge was elevated, saying they still “hold out hope” for justice.
“Until that time we find strength in our remaining numbers and will continue to honour and remember Tess and the joy and love she brought to so many lives. She was the heart of our family,” she tweeted.
Richey’s death, along with that of several other gay men previously reported missing in the neighbourood, fueled criticism and distrust in how police handle missing persons reports.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders vowed to have the force’s professional stands unit investigate the cases and later revealed that a dedicated Toronto Police missing persons unit is in the process of being erected.
The Toronto Police Services Board is due to discuss an external review into how police conduct missing persons investigations at a meeting today.