TORONTO — A Toronto man accused of sexually assaulting and strangling a young woman he had just met testified Monday that she initiated their early-morning sexual encounter and was alive when he left her.
Kalen Schlatter, 23, denied causing Tess Richey’s death or harming her in any way as he gave his account of what happened the night the 22-year-old woman went missing in November 2017.
Schlatter, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, said Richey was the one who made the first move, asking if she could kiss him after her friend left them alone in Toronto’s gay village.
He told jurors Richey led him down a driveway and a set of stairs, where they continued to “kiss, make out, feel each other up” for about 40 minutes. Schlatter said he mentioned having condoms, but Richey told him they could not have sex because she was on her period.
They walked back up the stairs after Schlatter ejaculated in his pants — an incident that left him feeling embarrassed, he said. Richey turned down his offer to go back to his place, he said.
“She told me to leave,” Schlatter said. So he made his way home — first in a taxi, then in an Uber after he had to get out of the cab to throw up, he said.
It was only later, after police released his photo, that Schlatter realized Richey was dead, he told a packed Toronto courtroom. Court has heard Richey’s body was discovered in stairwell by her mother and a family friend days after she went missing.
“I feel terrible…. I should have stayed with her,” said Schlatter, who wore a dark blue suit over a white shirt.
Court has seen security footage that showed Schlatter and Richey walking down an alley together the night she disappeared, then Schlatter emerging alone about 45 minutes later.
The trial has also heard Schlatter’s DNA was on Richey’s pants and inside her bra.
Defence lawyers have raised questions about another man seen on security video from the area that night.
Jurors heard last week from Schlatter’s former cellmate, a longtime criminal who said Schlatter confessed to strangling Richey with a scarf after she refused to have sex with him.
The informant, who can only be identified as E.S. due to a publication ban, said he grew to dislike Schlatter after realizing the young man felt no remorse and cried himself to sleep over his own plight rather than Richey’s death.
Schlatter testified Monday there was no such confession, that he told his then-cellmate he and Richey made out and then parted ways.
He said he shared with E.S. some of what detectives and his lawyers told him about the case — how Richey had died from strangulation and he was the last person seen with her on security footage.
Schlatter acknowledged he sometimes cried at night but gave a different explanation for his behaviour. “I missed my family, I felt bad for Tess, I felt bad that I was in jail for something I didn’t do,” he said.
He also denied brainstorming alternate stories with E.S., saying the other man pressed him on what may have happened to Richey but he didn’t have any answers.
Jurors have also heard from two undercover officers who said Schlatter confided in them after they were all placed in holding cells at a Toronto police station.
Schlatter confirmed he boasted to them about his success with women but insisted it stemmed from fear. “I was trying to impress them and trying to hide my bisexuality,” he said.
He testified he told the officers he went to gay bars but was not himself gay, because he didn’t want to “get picked on or beaten up” in jail.
Schlatter briefly paused and wiped his eyes when he described learning during his interrogation how Richey had died.
The Crown is expected to cross-examine him on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 9, 2020.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press