Canada

Stafford pathologist can't say who dealt fatal blows

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. The pathologist who examined the remains of Victoria (Tori) Stafford testified Wednesday that he is unable to determine who inflicted the fatal blows on the eight-year-old girl from Woodstock, Ont.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

Michael Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

The pathologist who examined the remains of Victoria (Tori) Stafford testified Wednesday in a murder trial in London, Ont., that he is unable to determine who inflicted the fatal blows on the eight-year-old girl.

Dr. Michael Pollanen, chief forensic pathologist for Ontario, was back in the witness box for the trial of Michael Rafferty, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction.

During his cross-examination of Pollanen on Wednesday morning, defence lawyer Dirk Derstine asked the pathologist about the extensive injuries found on Tori's remains, including at least four fatal blows to her head from a hammer.

"Science and all of your skill cannot tell us who inflicted these wounds?" Derstine asked.

"That is correct," Pollanen replied.

Victoria (Tori) Stafford disappeared after leaving her school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Tori disappeared outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009.  Her remains were found near Mount Forest, a small community 100 kilometres north of the girl's home on July 19, 2009.

Derstine also asked Pollanen about evidence of a sexual assault. The court heard Tuesday that her remains were too decomposed, so no such evidence was expected to be found.

"The medical evidence is silent on sexual assault," Pollanen said Wednesday.

Pollanen began his testimony on Tuesday, presenting autopsy photographs and describing the injuries found on the schoolgirl's body. Along with the hammer blows, a post-mortem examination also revealed numerous rib fractures, probably from kicking or stomping, and damage to her liver, injuries which were likely sustained while Tori was still alive.

Pollanen told the court Tori was clad in only a T-shirt and there was no evidence of clothing on the lower portion of her body.

Officer describes massive search effort

The Crown contends Tori was lured to Rafferty's car by Terri-Lynne McClintic shortly after Tori left Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock. The pair then drove the girl first to Guelph, and later to a rural area north of the city where she was allegedly raped and killed.

McClintic, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two years ago, testified last month she kicked the young girl before hitting her several times with a hammer. McClintic, 21, had previously told police it was Rafferty who delivered the fatal blows.

Provincial police searched hundreds of tonnes of garbage for more than 20 days at a landfill in Salford, Ont., during the search for Stafford's body. (Ontario Provincial Police)

After Pollanen's cross-examination, the Crown called Sgt. John James Stirling, a co-ordinator with the Ontario Provincial Police's search and rescue unit.

Stirling detailed the massive effort to locate Tori that was launched following her disappearance, involving hundreds of officers from both the OPP and surrounding municipal forces.

Police searched a massive area around Guelph and came within 6.8 kilometres of the site where Tori's body would eventually be found by top OPP interrogator Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth. 

Officers traversed more than 18,000 kilometres on foot, horseback and in vehicles, including cruisers, helicopters and ATVs.

Stirling said it was the largest such operation in Ontario, possibly in all of Canada.

"Literally, we went 1½ times around the moon," Stirling said.

Officers sifted through hundreds of tonnes of garbage at a landfill over 20 days, needing decontamination at the end of each day.

They flew almost 1,000 kilometres in a helicopter in an effort to identify landmarks described by McClintic, who was in the air for much of the search.

Officers walked 51 kilometres along the shoulder of Highway 401, searching in vain for a piece of bloodstained car seat McClintic said she had cut out and thrown out the window.

Smyth finally found her remains on July 19, 2009, when he spotted a house matching a description McClintic had provided and he investigated a nearby laneway.

Missing poster found in McClintic's home

Later on Wednesday, the jury heard from a number of police officers who were involved in the arrest of Rafferty on the evening of May 19, 2009. His car, a Honda Civic, was also seized.

McClintic has previously testified she gave a statement to police on that day, implicating Rafferty in the disappearance and death of Tori.

Rafferty has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction in the death of Stafford. Terri-Lynne McClintic pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two years ago. (Ontario Provincial Police)

During the Crown's opening statement last month, prosecutor Kevin Gowdey said Rafferty's car would play a key role in the trial, including DNA evidence collected inside it.

The Crown also called Const. Gary Scoyne, a forensic identification officer with the OPP who has testified several times throughout the trial.

Const. Scoyne presented a series of pictures of items found in McClintic's home after her arrest, including a missing poster for Tori and a piece of paper which had the phone number of Tara McDonald, Tori's mother, written on it.

McDonald testified last month she met McClintic on two separate occasions and had talked with her mother about dog breeding.

Rafferty's trial, which began in early March, is expected to last several more weeks.

With files from The Canadian Press

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