Marie Van Diest hopes life will become peaceful again she said outside Vernon Law Courts Tuesday after Matthew Foerster received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 17 years.
Thick-rimmed glasses framed Foerster’s eyes, which were glued forward as he sat without moving when Justice Brenda Brown handed down the sentence in relation to the murder of Marie’s daughter, Taylor Van Diest, on Oct. 31, 2011. Sitting opposite the Van Diest family, Foerster’s mother wiped away tears when the sentence was read.
“I’m just sick of feeling this torment, torture. Just going to have to keep going the way we are, but I think we’re doing all right,” Marie Van Diest said.
Foerster pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder in connection with the killing of Armstrong teen Taylor Van Diest in 2011. Foerster was convicted of first-degree murder in 2014, but the Court of Appeal granted a retrial in 2017 based on an error in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury.
Crown prosecutor Christopher McPherson said that because Foerster pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and a joint submission was presented and accepted by Justice Brown Tuesday morning, there will be no more appeals. And for Marie Van Diest, that news comes with relief.
“We’re done. We’re done for now. I don’t think I could take any more,” Marie Van Diest said.
“You can’t put a price or any sort of comment that would be suited to the loss of a loved one. There are no words that can describe it. I know many have tried, but I think everyone falls short when it comes to really divulging the feelings that a person goes through day after day after day.”
As the family continues its healing process, so too does the City of Armstrong, which is still recovering from the murder, the family and fellow Armstrong residents said.
“I think it’s returning to the quiet, lackadaisical town it was. People forget over the years. They move on to the next tragedy and the next tragedy. There are so many of them. It’s all we’re bombarded with these days it seems is tragedy after tragedy,” Marie Van Diest said.
At the sentencing hearing that started June 4, McPherson said that the murder of Van Diest altered the fabric of Armstrong for many.
“It has so adversely affected behaviours, trust, the entire nature of the small town of Armstrong, B.C.,” he said to a gallery of about 30.
In her victim impact statement, Armstrong resident Dorianne Kohl attested to that fact saying that grief “swept through citizens of the community like wildfire.”
“It is a deep wound which created fear, and distrust among us. As a community, we have been scarred by the vicious attack. We continue to be haunted by this tragedy,” Kohl said.
Van Diest had been walking to a Halloween party in Armstrong when she was attacked by Foerster near the railway tracks on Rosedale Avenue. Efforts were made to revive Van Diest, however, she later died of her injuries in Kelowna General Hospital on Nov. 1.
“She was killed by Mr. Foerster and the cause of death was multiple blunt-force trauma wounds to the back of the head,” McPherson said.
“She was still alive when she was found.”
Van Diest, who was 18-years-old, had texted friends prior to the altercation, which the Crown suggested occurred at approximately 6 p.m. The contents of those text messages, McPherson said, were considered normal topics of conversation, until a text sent at 6:01 p.m. said that she was “being creeped.”
“That text message is the last communication Van Diest ever sent,” McPherson said.
Foerster was arrested in Ontario on April 4 in relation to the murder. He later confessed to hitting Van Diest multiple times with a flashlight.
“The killing itself was brutal, there’s no other way to describe it,” McPherson said. “He viciously hit Van Diest with the flashlight. It is not an exaggeration or hyperbole to say Foerster left her there to die.”
Court heard that Van Diest and Foerster had never met prior to that night.
“These facts represent really the most terrifying act imaginable: murder by a complete stranger,” McPherson said.
Van Diest’s mother recounted the last night she saw her daughter alive in her statement.
“I tell them I love them and to be safe,” Marie Van Diest said. “Little did I know Oct. 31 would be the last time I said this to Taylor.
“The hardest thing I ever had to do as a mother was to tell her twin sister Taylor is gone. There will always remain an empty chair where Taylor should have sat.”
Defence lawyer Ken Beatch said, at the time of the incident, Foerster was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and had consumed vodka, beer, mushrooms and marijuana earlier that day.
“All his criminal activity has been fuelled by drugs and alcohol,” Beatch said.
“When one first looks at this case, the first impression one has is that this is probably one of the worst cases one has seen. When one sits down with Foerster… there are many mitigating factors.”
Beatch said Foerster has taken rehabilitative steps since the murder, including sobriety since his arrest, participation in Alcoholics Anonymous and three separate integrated correctional programs.
“All of his offences were shrouded in a cloud of alcohol and drugs,” Beatch said.
However, McPherson said that this instance and two other matters for which Foerster was imprisoned are extreme results of alcohol or drug dependency.
While they cannot be used as evidence in this matter, Justice Brown agreed with McPherson who said Foerster’s past crimes denote a history of violence towards women.
In 2004, a then 18-year-old Foerster crept into the home of a young Cherryville woman, slammed her head against a wall and told her that he wanted her. He eventually left her alone when she screamed and said she thought she was going to pass out.
In 2005, Foerster went to a Kelowna escort agency, the Garden of Eden. There he grabbed a sex-trade worker by the hair and held a knife to her throat while she performed a sexual act. He also bound and raped the woman. This case and Van Diest’s death were linked through DNA.
Foerster is serving a six-year jail sentence on both cases.
When Van Diest was attacked she scratched Foerster and his DNA was left under her fingernail. That DNA matched a sample taken from the sex-trade worker, all those years earlier and the cases were forever linked.
Since his arrest, Foerster has been downgraded to a medium-security inmate. Beatch said, in time, he will be classified as a minimum-security inmate.
“He is motivated to change. He does not want to be that person,” Beatch said. “He regrets that day every day and has done so since then. This is a man who feels remorse, deep remorse.”
Clad in blue jeans, a blue-collared shirt and white sneakers, Foerster stood, moving for the first time since the sentencing hearing began, to offer an apology to the family Monday.
“I’m so sorry that I have taken your loved one,” Foerster said, reading from a written apology. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel regret. I wish more than anything I could take back what I did.”
From his apology and facts presented by Beatch, Justice Brown accepted that Foerster feels remorse.
Marie Van Diest, however, said the apology felt hollow.
“Not once did he mention Taylor’s name,” Marie Van Diest said.
The lesser charge essentially means that while Foerster knew his actions would kill Van Diest, he hadn’t planned it in advance. And, more importantly, in this case, he didn’t fatally injure her while trying to sexually assault her — the element Crown would need to prove for a first-degree conviction.
“This has created a gaping wound within me,” Marie Van Diest said during her victim impact statement. “This sentencing is merely an act of adding salt to that wound.”
Foerster will be eligible to apply for parole April 4, 2029, 17 years after his arrest. With the faint hope clause, Foerster can apply for a reduction of parole ineligibility April 4, 2027. It is then up to the parole board to decide whether or not parole is granted.