Court hears from pathologist

Although Taylor Van Diest was found with ligature marks around her neck, the pathologist who conducted her autopsy believes the blows to her head are what ultimately killed her.

Dr. John Stefanelli spoke Wednesday morning during the third day of testimony in the first degree murder trial of Matthew Foerster, accused of killing the Armstrong teen on Halloween night, 2011.

Dr. Stefanelli told the jury “blunt force trauma to the head” is what he determined to be the cause of death during Taylor’s autopsy performed on Nov. 3, 2011. Aside from those injuries, he found her to be a fit and healthy 18-year-old woman.

The most serious of the six blows Stefanelli found ranging from the backside to top of Taylor’s head caused a skull fracture and in his expert opinion was caused by a “fairly heavy, fairly hard object.”

He believed the object to be metal, but could not categorically say what caused the wounds, although he noted that any of the blows could have rendered her unconscious.

During cross examination, Foerster’s defence counsel Lisa Helps brought out the long, thin metal pipe under which Taylor was found and asked if that could have caused the injuries, to which Stefanelli agreed.  

He also acknowledged that a broken bra strap could have caused the ligature marks found on her neck, having previously testified that he believed a “thin piece of rope or string” could have made the marks.

“Something was wrapped around her neck and pulled tight enough to make these marks,” Stefanelli told Crown prosecutor Iain Currie.

“Perhaps some sort of string or necklace. Anything long, thin and flexible.”

Stefanelli also found faint scratches above and below the ligature marks, consistent with fingernails on Taylor’s neck. He surmised this was caused by Taylor herself, as she tried to get her fingers underneath whatever was choking her.

While unable to say exactly how long she had been choked, Stefanelli pointed to severe bruising on her larynx showed that enough pressure had been applied to cause blood loss and stop the flow of oxygen.

Stefanelli testified that textbook cases illustrate unconsciousness happens within 6 to10 seconds, but it takes between 60-90 seconds of applied pressure for breathing to stop.

Other bruising to her hands and forearms, including fractured fingers is believed to have been caused by defensive wounds, according to Stefanelli’s testimony, although he stated that was only a hypothetical theory of what could have caused them.

When asked in what order the beating and strangulation took place, Stefanelli told the court he did not know, but based on the defensive injuries it would certainly explain if she was using her hands to protect her head.

Members of the Van Diest family were clearly affected by the morning testimony and many attempted to hold back tears, passing tissues back and forth. Taylor’s mother Marie declined to speak with media during the lunch break.

The cross examination of Dr. Stefanelli continues this afternoon.

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