The Crown says new evidence prompted its decision to upgrade the charge against Matthew Foerster from second-degree murder to first-degree murder.
Mr. Foerster was arrested in connection with the killing of 18-year-old Taylor Van Diest, who was found badly beaten and unconscious in the northern Okanagan community of Armstrong last Halloween and died of her injuries.
Mr. Foerster, 26, was taken into custody two weeks ago at an Ontario motel. He was flown back to B.C. and initially charged with second-degree murder, but the Crown and RCMP announced the upgrade Thursday.
"The decision to proceed on the charge of first-degree was based on additional evidence that was not available to Crown at the time of the initial charge assessment review," said Neil MacKenzie, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch. "But I can't be specific as to the nature or details of the evidence at this point."
Mr. MacKenzie said, at its most basic level, a murder is first-degree under the Criminal Code if it's planned and deliberate. He said murder can also be classified first-degree, regardless of planning and deliberation, if it is committed by a person who committed or attempted to commit other offences.
Mr. MacKenzie said he could not speculate on whether Mr. Foerster will face additional charges. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 10.
A trial date has not been set and the allegations against Mr. Foerster have not been proven in court.
Corporal Dan Moskaluk, an RCMP spokesman, said he's not privy to the information that led to the charge upgrade. However, he said it's not uncommon for such charge amendments to take place after reports and evidence are forwarded to the Crown.
Cpl. Moskaluk said police are continuing their investigation and would like to hear from anyone who had contact with Mr. Foerster on Halloween night, or in the months leading up to his arrest. RCMP have said they had trouble locating Mr. Foerster before he was taken into custody.
"The tip line is still active. This is one of the components in the investigation that is carrying on," he said. "We are hopeful in receiving any information that is out there, from people who have not come forward as of this time."
Shortly before she was attacked, Ms. Van Diest sent a text message to her boyfriend in which she said she was "being creeped," but provided no other details, according to her best friend.
Mounties have said Ms. Van Diest left her home around 5:50 p.m. She walked for 10 minutes, until she reached a set of railroad tracks near Rosedale Avenue. The last contact she had with friends was the 6 p.m. text. At 7:30 p.m., her cellphone was found near the tracks and RCMP were notified of her disappearance. Friends and family began searching and found Ms. Van Diest at 8:45 p.m., less than one kilometre from her home.
Her death sent shockwaves through the community of 5,000. Police urged the public to remain vigilant and take extra safety precautions. Mayor Chris Pieper said the community became "more cautious, sort of lost our innocence."
Mr. Foerster's 58-year-old father Roy was also charged, with one count of obstruction of justice and one count of accessory after the fact to murder. The father was taken into custody earlier this month at his home in Cherryville, about 75 kilometres southeast of Armstrong. The younger Mr. Foerster formerly lived in Cherryville.
In November, RCMP announced they had linked DNA collected from Ms. Van Diest's death to the unsolved 2005 sexual assault of a Kelowna woman. A sketch was released of the suspect at that time. Mr. Foerster has been charged with sexual assault and unlawful confinement in connection with the Kelowna case.
He was also charged with possession of a break-in instrument, breaking and entering to commit an indictable offence, and assault with a weapon in connection with a home invasion in Cherryville in 2004.