Defence questions account of undercover officer in Schlatter murder trial

TORONTO — Defence lawyers for a man accused of sexually assaulting and killing a young woman suggested Friday that an undercover Toronto police officer who spoke to their client in jail may have inaccurately remembered and interpreted the conversation.

Kalen Schlatter’s lawyers cross-examined the officer after he testified earlier this week that Schlatter confided in him while they were in holding cells at a police station in the early hours of Feb. 5. 2018.

Defence lawyer Lydia Riva noted the officer, whose name is not being disclosed in court, could not specify the exact words Schlatter used and instead paraphrased the conversation when he wrote down rough notes roughly 3 1/2 hours into the operation.

She also suggested that what the officer viewed as Schlatter “bragging” about his success with women was in fact a manifestation of her client’s fear of what would happen to him behind bars if it were discovered that he is bisexual.

And despite hours of conversation in which he opened up about his case, Riva asked the officer, “Did Mr. Schlatter ever tell you that he murdered Tess Richey?”

“No,” the officer replied.

Schlatter was arrested on his way home from a Super Bowl party in 2018, months after Richey’s death. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

Prosecutors allege he sexually assaulted Richey, a 22-year-old woman he had just met, then strangled her when she refused his advances.

Richey was reported missing after a night out with a friend in November 2017 and was found dead in a stairwell days later by her mother and a family friend.

The Crown has said security footage shows Schlatter and Richey heading towards a stairwell together and Schlatter leaving alone 45 minutes later. Prosecutors have also said Schlatter’s saliva was found on Richey’s bra and his semen on her pants.

On the stand earlier this week, the officer said Schlatter described meeting Richey at a club in the city’s gay village the night she died, and kissing and dancing with her there.

He said Schlatter talked about taking Richey to a secluded alley so they could “hook up,” but after some “making out and grinding,” which caused Schlatter to ejaculate in his pants, she refused to have sex.

The officer testified Schlatter said he was upset and left shortly afterwards, leaving Richey alone in the stairwell.

Schlatter also discussed his strategies to pick up women, which included finding straight women in gay bars, according to the officer, who said he believed Schlatter was trying to impress him.

Court heard Friday there was no audio recording of the conversation, though the officer said he believed some of his colleagues were listening through a device. No explanation was given for the lack of audio recording.

The officer acknowledged an audio recording would have been “ideal.” There is also security footage of the cells but it does not have sound, court heard.

In cross-examination Friday, the defence suggested Schlatter’s apparent desire to impress a stranger he believed to be an accused criminal was linked to “certain perceptions” about how people who identify as gay and bisexual are treated in jail.

Riva asked the officer if he was aware of security footage from the club that purportedly shows Schlatter kissing and dancing with a man, rather than Richey. She also asked the officer if he knew her client identifies as bisexual. In both cases, the officer said no.

The defence lawyer also suggested that some of what the officer believed Schlatter was stating as fact had actually been relayed to him by detectives during his interrogation earlier that night. She also argued the officer took Schlatter’s words out of context on several occasions.

Riva also suggested the officer took a more active role in the conversation than he claimed. The officer has said he let Schlatter steer the conversation, at times repeating what Schlatter said to him or chiming in with “filler words.”

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